High school graduation is around the corner and among this year’s greatest memories is my day at the Arizona Capitol as a youth advocate for Students Taking a New Direction (STAND), Arizona’s anti-smoking youth coalition.
My volunteer work with STAND has been one antidote to succumbing to the spell of “senioritis” — that can’t-wait-to-get-out-of-here zombie-like mind set — and I encourage all students, seniors or not, to do what I did: Get involved.
My participation — with hundreds of other high school kids from throughout Arizona — in the STAND Legislative Day and anti-smoking rally at the state Legislature afforded me a very fond and lasting memory of my senior year at Corona del Sol High School. It’s an impression I’ll probably carry for the rest of my life.
Talking to our hometown lawmakers about kicking butts — as in “Kick Butts Day,” a national day of activism aimed at empowering youth to stand out, speak up and do battle with all the ill effects of tobacco use — was awesome.
Our lawmakers listened intently and I really felt empowered, like I was really on an important mission. They welcomed our ideas and were impressed by the successful initiatives that youth at their respective local communities are leading. All the coalitions are working with the same goal of helping everyone — kids and adults — to stop tobacco use or to keep them from starting.
Sharing the stage with groups that fight big tobacco — some since before I was born — was really powerful! On that day, the Arizona offices of the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network as well as Arizonans Concerned About Smoking and Arizona Smoke-free Living, reinforced that our work mattered.
With the potential for tobacco use and nicotine addiction ever present and transforming into new products like flavored cigarillos, snuff, and even e-cigarettes — or revitalizing itself using old methods such as the use of hookahs, it is more important now than ever to take action against the threats that are facing our youth.
The use of cigarettes and spit tobacco is prevalent among young people, with 2,100 youth and young adults who smoke occasionally graduating to be daily smokers every day. This is alarming, knowing that 30 percent of teen smokers will die early from a smoking-related disease.
With tobacco still being the No. 1 cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the U.S. and with smokers having a death rate three times higher than those who never smoked, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Though I will be soon leave high school and STAND, I am committed to spread my knowledge for years to come. I hope members of our Arizona Legislature do the same via policies and laws that help protect Arizonans from tobacco.
No doubt, graduation will be great and I’ll surely have a lot of memories to take away from my high school days. But one event will stand out above a lot of others — my participation in “Kick Butts Day 2014” at the Arizona Legislature. I hope our lawmakers feel the same.
— Janea Crum is a member of STAND and senior class president of the Class of 2014 at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe.