September 7, 2022

Cultivating Tobacco-Free Communities: Three Ways to Raise Youth Voice

Learn more about ways to help raise youth voice to address the tobacco and vaping epidemic.

Youth advocacy training materials provided by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids at the 2022 Youth Advocacy Tour.

My friend and Healthier Generation health equity champion, Jane Park, recently shared a Fred Rogers quote with me:

“Please think of the children first. If you ever have anything to do with their entertainment, their food, their toys, their custody, their day or night care, their healthcare, their education – listen to the children, learn about them, learn from them. Think of the children first.”

What does this quote mean to you?

For me, “intentionality” comes to mind. How are we intentionally sharing power with youth and creating space for their creative ideas? Whether that’s cooking together, investing in a young entrepreneur, or training youth to advocate for social justice.

Healthier Generation has incredible partners, like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who make this intentionality a reality.

I recently had the opportunity to witness firsthand how Gustavo Torres, TFK’s director of youth advocacy, and Nicolas Suarez, TFK program associate, create experiential learning opportunities for youth during the first stop of the 2022 Youth Advocacy Tour in Portland, Oregon.

A blend of community engagement, listening sessions, and youth training, this tour is open to high school students looking to make a lasting impact in their communities. Through October, the tour aims to impact health equity and social justice by engaging Black, Indigenous, Hispanic/Latino, and LGBTQ+ communities.

As a queer-identifying person from a rural community, I can tell you firsthand how empowering it is to have your voice heard and appreciated by a caring mentor. The safe spaces created during the tour are truly life-changing moments.

Inspired by the Youth Advocacy Tour kick-off, here are a few ways to raise youth voice to address the tobacco and vaping epidemic.

Having fun at dinner. From left to right: Gustavo Torres (TFK), Sun Park (Han Oak), Daniel Hatcher (Healthier Generation), Nicolas Suarez (TFK), and Peter Cho (Han Oak).

1. Join the Tour!

Of course, if the tour is coming to your city – invite youth to go! Especially those from historically marginalized communities. The tour offers opportunities to learn through real-time advocacy experiences such as meetings with legislators and decision makers; workshops to improve writing, media engagement, guerrilla activism, and community organizing; and opportunities to work alongside and build networks with other advocates. The training is interactive, fun, and free!

Can’t attend? Get involved on social and spread the word. Tweet a note of encouragement or share a video message.

2. Sustain Social Justice

The first event was hosted at Han Oak – a popular restaurant in Portland. You might remember Chef Peter Cho, wife Sun Park, and their children Elliott and Francis from our virtual tour, part of Kohl’s Healthy at Home.

If you’re a business owner or have a skill to share, consider donating supplies, time, or space. One of my favorite moments at the Portland event was a Han Oak snack break featuring local peaches, tomatoes, and delicious treats from local farmers that kept students nourished. Championing social justice takes energy!

Even if the tour isn’t coming to your city, how can you share skills and assets with young people who want to make a positive impact in your community?

Educators, community members and students gather for a screening of "Black Lives/Black Lungs."

3. Get Connected to Resources and Support

If you’re an educator (in or out of school) or a member of a school wellness council, your partnership is essential for young people to continue to feel supported as they become advocates. Healthier Generation has tools to support you to strengthen district policies, support tobacco-free and vaping-free environments, and prioritize the use of restorative practices to curb tobacco use. To learn more, reach out to my teammate, program manager Ryan Monroe.

How do you raise youth voice in your community? Tag @HealthierGen on Twitter or @healthiergeneration on Instagram to share your thoughts!

Daniel Hatcher

Senior Director, Strategic Partnerships | Alliance for a Healthier Generation