Guest blogger, Mauro Medrano currently serves Legacy as a Youth Board Liaison. He participated in Legacy’s 2013 Youth Leadership Institute, and is an active volunteer for Tobacco Free Kansas Coalition, and RESIST.
Youth participation and leadership is extremely important in the tobacco control movement because if youth don’t allow themselves to become the next generation of smokers, what would happen to the tobacco industry? They would have to shut down because nobody was buying their products! That’s the reason why youth leadership programs like Legacy’s Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) make a huge difference. The program helps young people gain the skills they need to address tobacco in their own communities, and even in their own social circles.
After getting involved with RESIST, a youth-prevention program run by the Tobacco Free Kansas Coalition three years ago, I was able to attend YLI in 2013. The event brings together youth and adults working in tobacco control from around the country, engaging them in discussions, empowering them to make meaningful change at the grassroots, state and national level. Attending was truly unforgettable. The program gave me the opportunity to not only learn more about the issue of tobacco, but also to network with amazing people who currently work in tobacco control from across the United States.The sessions at YLI are geared towards developing strategies and skills, promoting youth and adult partnerships, as well as creating plans to address tobacco in local communities. Attending YLI helped me develop strong leadership skills – skills that are not only applicable to tobacco control, but rather are valued in any workplace environment.
Two of my key learnings from YLI 2013 relate to flavored tobacco and the impact that tobacco has on the environment.
Regarding flavors, YLI opened my eyes to the way the tobacco industry markets many emerging products as though they were candy. In one very interesting session, we were shown how similar the fonts and the colors on the packaging are on both, emerging tobacco products and candy bars. Every time I see these types of tobacco products in a gas station now, I am reminded of these industry practices aimed at luring youth, to make them the next generation of smokers.
One of the programs we have at RESIST is called the Litter Box program, where we organize cigarette butt cleanups in Dodge City and Hutchinson in Kansas. I didn’t know that cigarette butts were not biodegradable, and after YLI, I’d notice old and stale cigarette butts everywhere! That’s when Erica Anderson, Coordinator at RESIST told me about their Litter Box program and I got more involved in clean-up events. Now, when we go around town on our clean-ups, people see us and they also see how many butts we pick up in two hours. And they are shocked! Thanks to YLI, I am able to spread awareness of not only the direct health effects of smoking, but also the indirect environmental effects of tobacco products.
Ultimately, YLI is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Attending not only increases capacity as it relates to tobacco, but also helps youth gain valuable skills – ones that are needed to make an impact on this issue. As the future of this country, we have the power to make America a healthier place to live. We can be the reason our friends choose to not smoke, and events like YLI give us the skills and strategies to make dramatic change, improving the health and well-being of the next generation.
Legacy is currently accepting applications to attend Youth Leadership Institute 2014. The event will take place on July 13-17 in Washington D.C. The deadline for submitting applications is May 28, 2014 at 1 pm E.T. To learn more, and to apply, visit Legacy’s Youth Activism page.