Hello, my name is Katie Webb, and I am a senior at Portales High School. This is my first year on the leadership team, but my second year as a youth advocate through Evolvement. Evolvement is a student-led organization that supports two campaigns to keep New Mexico youth tobacco-free. No Minor Sale is one of the campaigns which we support as youth advocates in Evolvement, and it aims to educate New Mexicans about the dangers of flavored nicotine products and advocate for flavor restriction. Since this is my first year on the leadership team, I was able to attend the Evolvement New Mexico Leadership Team (ENMLT) Summit in July 2022. This experience was a total blast, but I want to talk specifically about my experience supporting No Minor Sale during the summit.
Since joining Evolvement in 2021, as a junior, I have become a very involved advocate in my school and community. I have attended the Peanut Valley Festival in Portales where I hosted a table, or booth, both days to collect surveys and educate about our campaign and the dangers of flavored nicotine products. I have also hosted tables at my school’s fall musical and spring play where I was able to discuss our goals and gain support for our campaign. At these events, I collected opinion surveys that allow community members to share their thoughts about nicotine products and the impact flavors have on today’s youth. I have measured this concern many times and I have seen that the majority of our community cares about this issue and wants to see our youth tobacco-free.
During the Leadership Team Summit this summer, we had an event where we went out into our community and collected as many surveys as possible within the span of an hour. We were split up into teams of advocates from across the state, and went to the mall in Albuquerque to collect opinion surveys from community members while they shopped. This experience taught me a lot about advocation in real-time, and how important it is to share our message with the public. There were those who declined filling out our survey, because they were busy, but most people were interested in our campaign and wanted to know more. Of course, this event was a competition between teams of leaders, so we were very passionate about speaking to the most people, educating them, and collecting their opinions. At the end of the hour, my team felt very confident about our achievements and were proud that we had spoken to so many people. Sharing information on something that you are passionate about is such a great feeling. I know that I am making a change, one survey at a time, and it shows through the passion in our community. When we returned to our hotel, the winner was announced and…we won!! Our team had collected more surveys than all of the other teams, and we were super proud of ourselves. Not only did we win the competition, but we spread awareness about our campaign goals and gained support from many community members which are so important for the No Minor Sale campaign.
The No Minor Sale campaign focuses on policy changes to make a difference at the point of sale. This campaign helped pass the Tobacco Act in 2021 which raised the legal age to buy nicotine products from 18 to 21, which was huge progress for our campaign! It is so important to have strong policies like this in place to keep our youth away from dangerous products they do not fully understand the risks of. One of the major things our campaign is now working towards is a restriction on flavors, including menthol. The main issue with nicotine products today is that the fun flavors that tobacco companies advertise are appealing to young students. It is easy to forget the dangers of the product when it tastes like Piña colada or peaches. The tobacco companies target our youth through advertisements of fun flavors, even cereal flavors, that kids are curious to try. This curiosity is so dangerous, which is why a restriction on flavors and further education about the dangers of nicotine products in schools are so important.
We have a problem in our communities with youth using nicotine products, specifically flavored ones. There is even a smoke shop in Portales that does not ID consumers, which allows kids as young as 7th grade to illegally purchase these dangerous items. We’re hoping that a restriction on flavors would lessen the appeal of nicotine products. The restrictions would help protect our youth by lowering the appeal and in turn, lowering the usage. I am passionate about this change because I do not want my generation to begin vaping with flavored e-cigarettes, and then transition to chain smokers because they cannot control their addiction. I want my generation to be the one who stops chain smoking because I want my generation to be healthy. Smoking is the number one leading cause of preventable death in the US and I do not want my generation to succumb to the effects of these dangerous products because they started in high school and could not stop as an adult.
Being an advocate for Evolvement and the No Minor Sale campaign has helped me realize how dangerous these products really are. I want my peers to understand the dangers and hopefully help keep them safe from the harm of these products. I want my peers to live long healthy lives, tobacco-free, which is why policy change is so important. As a youth advocate, I am fighting for policy change, and I know that I am helping make a difference. I strongly suggest any of my peers who want more education, or who want to fight for what is right, join Evolvement and help to advocate for the No Minor Sale campaign. The change that your advocacy can make is really astounding, and I am so proud that I have had the opportunity to be involved.