High School Students Advocate for Tobacco Prevention on Behalf of their Peers, Community, and Future Generations

Can high school students make a difference in the fight for smokefree multiunit housing? A group of students in California think so, and they appear to be succeeding.

In Port Hueneme, California, a youth advocacy group collected over one thousand signatures on their petition in support of creating smokefree multiunit housing and smokefree outdoor spaces in apartment complexes. Not only did they circulate the petition, but they also hosted a workshop on how to write public comment, and worked alongside their mayor to promote information and data to protect people from second- and thirdhand smoke. They even met with the Port Hueneme City Council – all while still in high school.

high school students stand outside with tobacco free posters

This group, which is the Port Hueneme branch of the Future Leaders of America, was established in 1982. It teaches and supports high school students to become leaders in their communities and make long lasting systemic change. The Student Council of the group gets to decide how to run their meetings and how to lead their advocacy campaigns, said Javier Garnica, the groups’ youth organizer. He helps guide the high school students through their advocacy work and leadership development.

The group receives funding from the California Tobacco Prevention Program, which supports one of their current campaigns to push for policies to prevent second- and thirdhand smoke in multiunit housing.

“We had to prepare a lot,” said Jesselyn Banos, the group’s secretary. She explained how in order to effectively campaign, the student council had to gather lots of evidence, testimonies and facts about second- and thirdhand smoke.

The student council also hosted a community forum to inform others about second- and thirdhand smoke, said Garnica.  “It doesn’t just affect us, it affects animals,” said Arely Garcia, the student council president and avid dog lover. “It also affects future generations.”

Kendy Banos, the group’s communications director, agreed that second- and thirdhand smoke affects more people than just the person smoking. “People who smoke don’t always realize the impact of secondhand smoke,” she said.

The students collected signatures petitioning for smokefree multiunit housing, gathering over a thousand, Garcia said. Their petition even impressed the Mayor, Bobby Martinez, who also attended the community forum.

student in a blue shirt speakers a city council meeting

The students also spoke at the City Council meeting in Port Hueneme, presenting their petition and other evidence in support of a smokefree multiunit housing policy. The students said they were nervous to speak to their City Council, but they knew they had done the legwork and training to make a difference. Thanks to their advocacy, the City is now conducting surveys and looking into how to create an effective smokefree multiunit housing policy, said Garnica.

Beyond smokefree multiunit housing, the group is also considering how the commercial tobacco industry impacts communities of color and how vaping affects youth, Garnica said.

“Vapes are very accessible,” said Jesselyn Banos, explaining she knows classmates who get vapes from stores that make exceptions and sell to minors late at night. Banos and the Student Council are concerned about the long-term effects vaping can have on teens.

a group of students attend a city council meeting

Looking ahead, the students are planning to host another community forum on smokefree multiunit housing in the fall. Second- and thirdhand smoke exposure is a significant issue in multiunit housing, but not enough people know about the risks of exposure, especially from thirdhand smoke, the toxic residue left behind for months after someone smokes.

Smokefree policies are one of the most effective ways to reduce second- and thirdhand smoke exposure for tenants, but officials need to know that communities want and need smokefree multiunit housing. Community-focused action like the Future Leaders of America is doing is necessary to encourage city, state, and federal officials to make these much-needed policies. Through their diligent advocacy, these students are working towards a smokefree world for their peers and future generations.

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