Last Updated: October 2022
Author: Tobacco Control Program, Vermont Department of Health
Two things happened in FY2020 that dramatically dropped the overall number of youth groups in Vermont. The COVID-19 pandemic caused schools to move to remote learning with many extracurricular activities being canceled. The Agency of Education also stopped requiring the implementation of youth groups in their school-based substance use grants. In an effort to bolster these numbers the Tobacco Control Program began providing funding for a small number of community-based youth group grants. As the school environment has shifted post-COVID we must continually evaluate our youth groups efforts and shift as necessary.
Youth empowerment and engagement around tobacco is an identified method for preventing tobacco initiation and lowering use. National organizations including Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids monitor the burden and progress youth, advocates and state programs are making in reducing tobacco’s impact. The Vermont Department of Health and the Agency of Education fund two youth tobacco prevention groups – Our Voices Xposed (OVX) in high schools and Vermont Kids Against Tobacco (VKAT) in middle schools.
OVX and VKAT educate peers and their community about the impact tobacco has on Vermont youth. The groups hold events inside schools and outside in the community to raise awareness on the actions decision makers can take to reduce the toll of tobacco. Evidence-based strategies that communities can enact include passing smoke-free policies at local parks and playgrounds, which reduce secondhand smoke exposure and create positive social norms around tobacco use, and changing the tobacco retail environment, where exposure to product and advertising causes youth tobacco use initiation.
Whether youth coalitions successfully educate decision makers depends on:
Together these performance measures focus on whether Vermonters are better off as a result of Health Department's Tobacco Control Program. They do so by looking at the quality and efficiency of these programs and services. This performance measure is important because it measures HOW MUCH the program is doing in terms of youth prevention and the amount of program effort.
Youth can be the most effective advocates for anti-tobacco measures. Tobacco use is started and established primarily during adolescence. According to the Center for Disease and Control (CDC) Youth and Tobacco Use Fact Sheet, 90% of smokers begin before they are 18 years of age. Each day in the United States, more than 3,200 youth aged 18 years or younger smoke their first cigarette, and an additional 2,100 youth and young adults become daily cigarette smokers. Youth are not desensitized to the impact that tobacco has on important adults in their lives. Youth-led engagement, when supported by community engagement strategies, is an evidence-based way to move tobacco policy initiatives forward.
A recent example of a successful youth engagement campaign are OVX groups providing their stories and local data at the state legislature. In 2019 three OVX groups testified in front of committees, answering questions about vaping, flavors and tobacco use in their school community. Over the past years youth have been involved in educating on the dangers of exposure from smoking in cars, the thousands of flavors available in vaping products and the concerning rise of electronic vapor products in local schools. In 2019, the Vermont State Legislature passed three prevention bills to increase the age to purchase to 21, restrict online purchasing of e-cigarettes and establish a first-ever tax on e-cigarettes and price parity among tobacco products in Vermont. garettes. On July 1, 2016, Act 108 was passed, making Vermont became the ninth state to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes (defined as tobacco substitutes in Vermont) in the same manner and in the same locations as lighted tobacco products
The collaboration between Agency of Education and the Vermont Department of Health turns the curve by providing funding to youth groups along with training and technical assistance. This includes providing guidance on how to run effective youth groups, distributing information to motivate and inform coalition leaders, and connecting youth groups with opportunities to talk with decision makers or the media.
Counter marketing is a CDC recommended best practice area in tobacco control. Over the last several years, tobacco control efforts have begun to address the impact of point-of-sale, which combines restriction and reduction of advertising and youth access. This area of work is designed to counteract the retail environment, which research finds is more influential on youth smoking than peer pressure.