The Watertown Youth Coalition Peer Leaders of the Wayside Multi-Service Center joined over 90 youth recently from around the Commonwealth at The 84 Movement’s Youth Power Summit in Worcester, Massachusetts at UMass Medical School. Five Watertown High School students, Olivia Haggerty, Eva Henry, Shariel Joseph, Shama Joseph, and Marcus Moore, accompanied by their advisor, Dawn Graham, joined others to learn how Big Tobacco makes their products sweet, cheap, and easy to get, and about how to make their voices heard to challenge tobacco industry tactics.
The Watertown Youth Coalition Peer Leaders attended workshops on the basics of leadership and civic engagement. They learned skills to be effective change agents in their communities, such as identifying the issues through surveys, getting their messages heard, and gathering resources and allies. Youth also learned the context of tobacco use in Massachusetts, new skills to promote tobacco prevention, and they took part in leadership-building activities. The day empowered youth to use their voices to take down the tobacco industry and fight for a healthier community. While the day was focused on civic engagement around tobacco prevention, youth can use the skills they developed to address many issues.
Reflecting on the day, Olivia Haggerty said, “It was great to see communities from all around Massachusetts come together with the goal of fighting big tobacco. It was a great example of the unity of the youth.”
In addition to learning leadership skills, youth also networked and learned from each other in workshops with other youth involved in the cause. Trainings were co-facilitated by Statewide Leadership Team members Shariel Joseph and Marcus Moore, and the event was emceed and led by these two youth and eight others on the team. Overall, youth from around Massachusetts came together for a common cause, to let Big Tobacco know that youth can truly make a difference in the state. In fact, many chapters of The 84 Movement in Massachusetts have helped pass municipal policies to address tobacco industry tactics that target youth.
Although the cigarette smoking rate among high school students in Massachusetts has decreased to 7.7% for past 30-day use, the use of flavored products, specifically e-cigarettes, has increased with almost a quarter of high school students, 23.7%, using over a 30-day period. E-cigarettes and flavored tobacco products were a topic of conversation at the summit. The tobacco industry seeks lifelong customers that are currently in high school. The youth that attended this conference are not falling for it.
The 84 is a program of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, developed and managed in partnership with Health Resources in Action.
For more information on the work being done to combat Big Tobacco around the state visit www.makesmokinghistory.org and www.The84.org.