BREATHE Helps Teens Advocate for Tobacco-Free Communities

Posted: January 11, 2018

By Hilary Brown

UK's Bridging Research Efforts and Advocacy Toward Healthy Environments (BREATHE) team recently partnered with Youth Empowered Solutions (YES) to host tobacco and youth advocacy training for leadership students of Hazard High School, as well as a training session for adult community advocates from around the state on the importance of youth empowerment and mentorship and how to engage youth in advocacy efforts.

The training was part of the Tobacco-free Ambassador Partnership (TAP) project, funded through a $100,000 gift from CVS Health.  The day-long workshops focused on tobacco, health and social justice, sustainable change in communities, and a breakdown of tobacco policies in Hazard, Perry County and across Kentucky. The students also honed their advocacy skills, such as how to conduct surveys, start petitions, and make presentations to decision-making bodies such as their local school board. The training was funded through the TAP project and support from Kentucky Youth Advocates.

“It was encouraging to see all of the ideas and energy from young people in Hazard," said Melinda Ickes, Associate Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion in the College of Education and Director of Tobacco-free Take Action! and Go Tobacco-Free, two initiatives at UK to promote tobacco-free college campuses. "After completing a community assessment, the youth came to the training with an understanding of the challenges their community faces with regard to tobacco. However, they have also come to realize that change is possible when they work together and let their voices be heard.”

In the adult leader training session, community members from across Kentucky learned about community advocacy and how to mentor and partner with student groups advocating for change in their communities. Their objectives included:

  • Shared understanding of racial equity and its importance to youth empowerment
  • Understand recruitment and retention of young people to support policy, system and environmental changes
  • Assess and build capacity within organizations/communities to partner and foster the inclusion of youth

"I believe we are well prepared to engage youth and their adult mentors across Kentucky to reduce the enormous toll that tobacco takes on Kentuckians and on our economy," said Ellen Hahn, Professor in the College of Nursing and director of UK's BREATHE. "It was uplifting to see so many interested adults from one end of the state to the other with a desire to engage youth in making health policy change.”

Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!) is a nonprofit organization that empowers teens and their adult allies to create community change by giving them the tools necessary to take a stand in their communities and create change that will positively impact adolescent health.

For more information about tobacco prevention and cessation initiatives, visit BREATHE at http://www.breathe.uky.edu/.