Youth Advocates Are Crucial to Success

5,000,000… five million … 5 million

Any way you put it, that’s a big number. Try to picture 5 million people. (That’s all 32 professional football stadiums filled to standing-room only. And then doubled.) These people are grandparents, parents, siblings and friends.

Now, imagine that every one of those people you just pictured is dead.

Thanks to our dear friend, tobacco, that scenario is now. According to the CDC, 5 million people worldwide die each year due to tobacco-related diseases.

I got involved in the fight against tobacco two years ago, after attending a summer “Students With A Goal” (S.W.A.G.) training in Fulton, Mo. This will sound terribly cliché, but I returned a changed person.

Immediately, I recruited 28 youth to Odessa’s first S.W.A.G. group. Since then we’ve hosted two county-wide S.W.A.G. trainings, presented at various community events, talked twice to our city council, set up a “Shoot out Tobacco” basketball stand at the city fair, organized two Kick Butts Day events and recorded two radio PSAs. Last Halloween, we set up a “Don’t Let Big Tobacco Trick you, Treat Yourself to Good Health” stand, where we handed out Proposition B information to more than 400 people.

alexhiggenbotham.jpegOn an individual level, I’ve talked at various S.W.A.G. trainings about Tobacco Free Missouri and their Youth Advisory Board, which I’m the vice president of, and I spoke in the Rotunda of the Jefferson City Capitol during our youth summit. I’ve also visited my legislators in Jefferson City and Washington D.C. to discuss S.W.A.G. and tobacco issues. I was the recipient of one of ACT Missouri’s “Outstanding Youth Advocate” awards, and was honored to receive the Joining Forces “Youth Advocate of the Year Award” (pictured left, with Executive Director Susan Liss and Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids President, Mathew L. Meyers) this past May.

All this on top of my studies —it keeps me busy. So why do I take the time to work on something so time consuming? Well, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, every year tobacco kills more people than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide, and illegal drugs COMBINED! That’s why I got involved. The thought of millions of helpless and innocent people dying each year due to something so preventable, and so avoidable, is heart-wrenching to me.

Youth involvement in this cause is crucial to our success all across the board.

More than 80 percent of adult smokers started before the age of 18. If we can stop the problem before it starts, then we can actually defeat big tobacco. However, the challenge is getting youth to listen when you talk about tobacco.

We’ve all heard adults lecture us on the topic a million times, but there’s something distinctly different about this information coming from a peer. This is where youth advocates first become incredibly important. Adults also respond differently when youth address them about serious issues. Educated youth advocates are effective at conveying a message.

I could go on about the dangers and harm of tobacco, or the corrupt and deceptive nature of the companies who sell it, but instead I’ll leave you with a rather interesting quote about tobacco products:

“We don’t smoke that sh**, we just sell it. We reserve that right for the young, the poor, the black, and the stupid.”

That came from an executive at noted tobacco producer, R.J. Reynolds.

If they won’t even use their own products, do you really think you should?

Join the fight. Stop big tobacco, and make this world a better place for everyone.


Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006