I am from Gloucester, Massachusetts, and when I learned the devastating facts about tobacco use, especially among youth, I wanted to do something about it. In 1993 I was in the sixth grade and learned a lot about smoking in my health class. I learned how tobacco companies try to lure kids into smoking.
Gloucester did have a problem with teen smoking. Three of my friends, Erika Ryan, Allicia Cox and Lisa Bryant, and I got together to think about what we could do to reduce this problem in our city. We came up with the idea of banning cigarette vending machines. Since they are unsupervised, any youth under 18 can get cigarettes. Our next step was acquiring a petition from City Hall. If we were able to get enough voters to support us, then we could present our concern at a city council meeting. That summer we worked almost every day obtaining signatures, meeting with city officials, and working on speeches for the public hearing.
By September, we had 570 signatures and the day for the public hearing had come. Everything we had worked for would be determined by the vote of the city council. Our emotions were running very high that night. We were very excited but also fearful that the council would listen to businessmen rather than to a group of kids. Many restaurant and business owners spoke about the business they would lose if the bill passed. We could not understand how some people think about making a few extra bucks when thousands of people are dying every day from tobacco-related illnesses.
Fortunately, the council also realized how dangerous tobacco is and how easily youth have access to cigarette vending machines. They voted unanimously to ban the machines. We were so relieved and also very happy, since Gloucester would soon be on its way to being a healthier, smoke-free community.
Shortly after we officially banned cigarette vending machines, a group started at the Gloucester Prevention Network called "the middle school tobacco prevention peer leaders." I started working there with Erika, Lisa and seven other enthusiastic peer leaders. Our main goal was to prevent elementary and middle school kids from starting to smoke. We planned and organized many events to promote our message. We produced a play about peer pressure and how to resist tobacco. We have also organized two successful youth conferences for Gloucester youth. In December, we dressed up like clowns and performed anti-tobacco skits at the elementary schools. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot.
Last January, Houston Effler wanted us to star in a commercial about the process we used to ban the machines. Houston Effler is an agency sponsoring the "It's Time We Made Smoking History" campaign in Massachusetts. We agreed since it would hopefully inspire other people to do the same and make a difference in their communities. I think most youth don't realize how empowered they can be. The four of us have been to many conferences and events to spread our message.
During the summer of 1995 we became P.E.A.C.E. leaders (Peers Educate About Cigarettes Etc.). Since May, I have worked on the Generation Why newsletter, which is created, designed, and written by youth and for youth. It is put out by the P.E.A.C.E. leaders, and its main focus is to educate about tobacco.
Now I am a freshman in high school and am still actively involved in the fight against tobacco. This whole experience has left me with skills I will carry with me the rest of my life. fl
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.