VDH Strategic Plan
Tobacco in schools
Tobacco Prevention and Control
Tobacco Control Program
Tobacco Control Program
# of youth groups that educate local or state decisionmakers on tobacco harm and protective policies
Story Behind the Curve
Last Updated: January 2024
Author: Tobacco Control Program, Vermont Department of Health
Schools and community coalitions saw a sharp decrease in youth engagement during the Covid pandemic (2020-2022). Many have struggled with reengaging youth following the return of in-person learning. Due to the changing needs, Tobacco Control has been taking steps to start shifting the program to the new post-Covid needs of youth and their advisors.
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:
- Grant support from state partners like Agency of Education and training and materials from the Department of Health
- Motivation and passion among youth coalition members
- Community support for their activities, including in schools
- Understanding of tobacco issues among local decision makers
Why Is This Important?
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 Groups: OVX and VKAT youth are the central change agents for this activity.
- Tobacco Community Coalitions: Coalitions support OVX and VKAT youth by connecting them to local and statewide policy initiatives, providing them with the resources they need to communicate to decision makers, and creating opportunities for education around the diverse issues surrounding tobacco prevalence in Vermont.
- Local decision makers (such as select boards, boards of trustees, town officers): Local decision makers are the audience for OVX and VKAT education and invite youth to participate in the policy process.
- Vermont Agency of Education: The Vermont Agency of Education also funds school-based tobacco prevention activities, and some Local Education Agencies choose to work on youth empowerment and community mobilization.
- Rinck Advertising: the media and youth engagement contractor of the VTCP .
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.
- The Vermont Tobacco Control and Prevention Program will continue to partner with the Agency of Education to fund OVX and VKAT groups. OVX and VKAT groups are active from September through May of each school year.
- The annual Youth Rally at the Vermont statehouse, which is on February 13 this fiscal year (2024) and will seek to educate legislators on current products, flavors and youth use.
- The Tobacco Control Program's CounterBalance campaign continues to provide education and engagement materials for parents, community and youth.