Youth volunteers Brystol Beatley, left, and Canaan Newman with the countywide Friday Night Live program encourage high school students from Chester, Greenville, Portola and Quincy to join the “Superstars” campaign and help educate their peers about the importance of being the first tobacco-free generation in the U.S. Photos by Roni Java

Youth Summit Superstars promote tobacco-free lifestyle choices

Andrew Wyckoff, lower front left, volunteered at the first countywide Youth Summit on April 13 in Quincy to help teach kids about the health effects of using flavored-tobacco products. Stopping by to hear his presentation were, back row from left, Justin White, Noah Winter, Holden Hutcherson, Austin Beckley and Luke Richards.

They’ve heard it all before — smoking is bad for you, cigarettes will harm your health. Kids know this stuff, but it’s a different story with puffing on electronic cigarettes or vaping.

They see their friends, other kids and popular kids vaping and it looks cool. The products come in enticing flavors like cherry or “gummies” so they want to try it.

Armed with that awareness, a growing number of high school students from around Plumas County want to educate their peers about potential health risks and encourage them to choose tobacco-free lifestyles. So they’ve joined the “Superstars Campaign” sponsored by the Plumas County Public Health Agency (PCPHA) and its Tobacco Use Reduction Program.

The students held their first countywide Youth Summit on April 13 at Pioneer Park in Quincy and gave talks all afternoon as kids stopped by on their bikes and skateboards. The aroma of a complimentary barbecued lunch was a plus.

“The Superstar Campaign is about kids listening to kids,” Leila Srouji said from a shady picnic bench. “The fact that they can reach their peers better than adults can is exactly why we have this program and we are encouraging more students to join the campaign. Kids are the best mentors to protect our own youth in this county.”

Srouji is a PCPHA health education coordinator who directs the county’s anti-tobacco effort. PCPHA’s Melodie Bennett oversees the Superstar Campaign, which provides advocacy training to help high school students in grades 9 through 12 become spokespersons.

“We speak to kids about the consequences of vaping because they relate to us,” said Superstar volunteer Brystol Beatley whose team makes posters and puts them at the pizza parlors and ice cream places.

She added that the Superstars see “good responses, especially from the younger kids. Our message is that they have alternatives to help them vent their stress and resist peer pressure to vape. We tell them to think about your life as if it’s your performance at tomorrow’s game.”

Beatley and Canaan Newman are freshman at Quincy High. Together with their fellow Superstars from the high schools in Chester, Greenville and Portola, they serve students from junior high on up.

“Vaping is really rising with the 10- to 18-year-olds,” Newman said, showing visitors picnic tables filled with colorful posters, #BeTheFirst pledge buttons and engaging education materials.

Sponsored by the Plumas County Public Health Agency, #BeTheFirst helps students to engage with their peers and join the pledge to be America’s first tobacco-free generation.

“A lot of kids just blow it off (warnings) because they’re doing it for a social thing, they think it’s cool,” Newman added. “Some believe it helps them fit in or that it’s safer than smoking because their parents are smokers.”

But it’s not, it’s worse, says Shealyn Schwartz, a student intern with PCPHA who was also volunteering at the summit.

“Being involved with the anti-tobacco program has helped me learn how nicotine is affecting our community,” she said. “So our goal is to help kids who are saying no to vaping be the ones to tell their friends.”

Schwartz said the volunteers in Plumas County and nationwide would really like to see vaping promotions and flavored-tobacco products banned from social media, “but we worry about limiting free speech.”

Beatley agreed.

“You see these images and ad campaigns on social media, with celebrities and people you admire,” the Superstar volunteer said. “They promote the idea that you’ll be cooler if you vape and it’s a lifestyle that kids look up to. Our biggest hope is that kids will figure out vaping is not safer than smoking cigarettes — it’s the same thing.”

PCPHA staff and volunteers are actively recruiting other students to join the Superstar Campaign and they also provide other programs to boost awareness about anti-tobacco-use issues, underage gambling and more.

For example, Schwartz is working on a campaign to survey area retailers about the availability of flavored-tobacco products and the appeal to underage users. She said it’s easy to find the products right up front in many stores and there are often special sales and promotions that draw attention to them, too.

“Kids don’t really understand these products,” she said. “A lot of them tell me they think there’s no nicotine in them.”

For more information

Find out about student leadership meetings and opportunities with the Tobacco Use Reduction Program at local high schools by contacting:
Melodie Bennett, PCPHA

Community Outreach Coordinator at melodiebennett@countyofplumas.com or call 283-7098.

Join the Tobacco-free Taskforce

Parents are encouraged to join the awareness campaign, too. PCPHA’s Tobacco-Free Taskforce is a local coalition that welcomes any interested person to help with outreach.

Every second Wednesday

Noon to 1 p.m. in Quincy

Plumas County Public Health Agency

270 County Hospital Road, Suite 206

Next meeting is May 8.

Lunch is included.

RSVP to Leila Srouji 283-6457

leilasrouji@countyofplumas.com

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