Sunday, May 19, 2024

Kentucky tobacco-free advocates win Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' national Group Youth Advocates of the Year award

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids named the #iCANendthetrend Youth Advisory Board Group Youth Advocates of the Year. Front, from left: Saumya Sikhwal, Jasmin Hernandez, Sarah Larkin and Philena Ash. Back: Jordan Joslin, Chloe Brady, Ksenia Miller, Relena Aispuro and Olivia Hardigree.
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The University of Kentucky's #iCANendthetrend Youth Advisory Board has been named the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' 2024 Group Youth Advocates of the Year.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says it is the leading advocacy organization working to reduce tobacco use in the United States and around the world. 

The group was recognized for its advocacy summit at the state Capitol, where over 100 youth came together to push for stronger enforcement of Kentucky’s law prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. This event was held Feb. 15, following its second Kentucky Youth Tobacco Control Conference the day before. 

The #iCANendthetrend Youth Advisory Board is made up of high school students from across the state who applied to join the group, which works on empowering young people to prevent tobacco and e-cigarette use.

The board is part of UK's #iCANendthetrend program, which utilizes college-student facilitators who offer presentations in schools across the state about the dangers of tobacco and electronic-cigarette use.

The program was started in 2019 and the students found such passion from the high-school students that they created a program for them in 2021, said Griffin Nemeth, the group's coordinator and a student  at UK's College of Pharmacy.

Board member Saumya Sikhwal, a senior at South Warren High School, said one of the board's biggest projects this year was to advocate for compliance checks and enforcement of the law barring sales to those under 21. 

"So my main thing was to advocate for having stricter policies and compliance checks . . . holding retailers accountable for selling nicotine products to underage youth," Sikhwal said. 

She said that for most of the students, including herself, it was the first time they had talked directly to the legislators and that they got both positive and negative feedback to their requests. 

Board member Ksenia Miller, a freshman at Villa Madonna Academy in Kenton County, said students at the conference were educated about the tobacco laws in Kentucky and how they are enforced and were then able to talk with legislators the next day "about putting in more laws to further enforce the laws."

"It was a really, really big project to work on," she said. "But it was definitely a fun one."

The students who attended the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. and accepted the award on behalf of the group, spoke about their work in a video. Sikhwal and Miller were joined by board member Jasmin Hernandez, a junior from Casey County High School.

Asked about their experience, Miller said she enjoyed sharing the hard work that the Youth Advisory Board did and meeting fellow advocates. "It was a really great experience," she said. 

Sikhwal agreed. "It was definitely not just an award, it was more of an experience where you get to learn from others," she said. " I did not know how big Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids was. Just seeing people from across the world being there and advocating for tobacco prevention was really eye opening for me, and more inspiring. And it motivated me to do more advocacy work as I go into my next college years. " 

Sikhwal added that she was moved by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' President and CEO Derrick Johnson's words, when he said we should put "people above the profits."

She said, "I will remember that for a long time."

Nemeth said, "It really just goes to show the amazing work of all the young advocates."

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