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Guest Column: Williams High School students on board for anti-tobacco messages

The 2018-2019 school year was the best so far for Williams High School’s Vikings Inspiring Prevention (VIP), with 16 new members from the high school recruited.

This youth-driven club met weekly throughout last year, learning about the harmful effects of tobacco, how to share their message with varying audiences (younger students, community members, and leadership/policy-makers), and media’s influence on tobacco-use initiation.

VIP watched presentations from visiting guests on topics such as substance abuse, e-cigarettes, and Smoke Free Arizona, which helped them understand about how health policy can discourage tobacco and other substance use.

Students from the VIP coalition participated in state-wide events, like Kick-Butts Day and the Great American Smoke Out and attended regional trainings with other youth tobacco prevention groups across Arizona. One of these regional training was hosted by VIP at Williams Elementary-Middle School where the students learned about brain development in youth and how mental health is related to using tobacco products.

In the community, VIP has provided several presentations and events to help spread the word about tobacco use.

In October, all VIP members presented on “How to Say No” for the WEMS sixth through eighth graders and “How Tobacco and Smoking Affect Your Body” to the WEMS third through fifth graders. They retained a relationship with WEMS and returned in the spring to give three peer education lessons to the fifth graders on tobacco fact and myths, the physical difference of a tobacco user versus non-tobacco user, and a “Tobacco Operations” game where the fifth graders removed various part of the body to learn how tobacco and nicotine can harm a person.

VIP did two cigarette butt clean-ups, one at WHS and one around Downtown Williams, bringing attention to use that remains on their smoke-free campus and the environmental effect using tobacco products has on their community.

Lastly, VIP strengthened their partnership with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the Food and Drug Administration when members helped with tobacco retail inspections, helping to prevent under-age youth from purchasing tobacco products.

Over the summer, four VIP coalition members attended a conference in Phoenix where they interacted with all of the tobacco prevention coalitions in Arizona and learned more about e-cigarettes and vaping, public speaking, and cultural competency when working with difference audiences.

VIP had four seniors graduating In May! Their influence made an impact on younger peers. We wish them all the luck in the future.

This upcoming school year, VIP will continue the peer education lessons with WEMS, present more of what they learned to their peers at WHS, and begin discussions about how they can make their community healthier. VIP regular meetings will start up again in September. More information is available from Samantha To at sto@coconino.az.gov or Vikings Inspiring Prevention on Facebook.

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