Jan 30, 2024 4:00pm

Speaking to Local Media and Educating My Community

My name is Katie Webb and I was a youth advocate for Evolvement for two years, and on the Leadership Team for one year. Evolvement is a youth-led organization that empowers high school students across New Mexico to advocate for tobacco/nicotine policy change that protects youth. The organization does this through advocacy work with two campaigns: 24/7 which is a campaign focused on keeping New Mexico school campuses tobacco-free 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and No Minor Sale, which is the campaign we are going to focus on. No Minor Sale is a campaign in New Mexico that aims to stop the sale of tobacco/nicotine products to all minors, and anyone under the age of 21. The campaign also works to limit the advertisements that target youth and educate youth on the dangers of flavors that hide harsh chemicals found in vapes and tobacco products. Through my time as a youth advocate, I have worked on events for both campaigns, but I would like to talk about a particularly amazing experience that I have had the honor of participating in for the past two years now, which was an appearance on our local radio station to raise awareness for the No Minor Sale campaign, its goals, and the advocacy work Evolvement youth take part in. 

Obviously, I do not have to explain how nerve-racking it is to speak on the radio but let me just tell you it sounds much easier than it looks. Of course, you can’t see the crowd you’re speaking to, but that honestly makes it much scarier since you have no idea how many people are listening! In all honesty, though, I was honored to be chosen for this opportunity during my first year in Evolvement, but during my second year, it was one of the events I was waiting for all year. As scary as it sounds to speak into a microphone for who knows how many people, it was honestly an amazing experience that I would not trade for anything. Being able to interview with the radio host alone and share my experiences, the work I have done, and the thoughts I have on this issue was amazing; but, having all of the station’s listeners tune in and be educated on the issues at hand as well was such an honor to be a part of. 

Educating our community on the work that No Minor Sale does as well as our goals is one of the most important parts of my advocacy. Educating community members on what we are doing, gaining their support, and even just gaining exposure makes a huge difference. Many of our community members do not see the day-to-day exposure to tobacco/nicotine products that I see in school, so some people don’t realize how pressing of an issue this is. One of my favorite conversations to have with members of the community is based around their opinion on the topic, educating them on the dangers that new flavors present, and having a strong conversation with a stranger on something I am so passionate about. I know that it may not seem like a huge deal, but I was on the radio! How exciting is that? I would never have gotten this opportunity with any other organization that I am a part of, and honestly, I am glad to have shared this experience with Evolvement. 

Speaking of flavors, the No Minor Sale Campaign has begun working on restricting the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine products, including mint and menthol. The campaign has been collecting opinions from New Mexicans about how they feel about flavored tobacco/nicotine products and if their sale should be restricted in New Mexico. Based on my experience so far with these opinion surveys and even brief conversations like the one I had with the radio host, it is obvious that this issue is seen, heard, and known in our communities. The great thing is that with the work I have done including speaking with youth, adults, and the elderly, there is a consensus of support for the campaign goals, which is a beautiful step in the direction of change! After hearing my experience with my peers using these vapes more and more based on the fun flavors, everyone in my community is realizing the problem we have on our hands, and that something needs to be done to combat it. Even in my city, there is a smoke shop that sells to youth without requiring an ID from them, which is illegal, but unfortunately still taking place. This is why more changes need to be put in place, and more people need to stand up for the greater good, to protect today’s youth. 

With the overwhelming support I have received from community members during my work as an advocate, I can confidently say this is an issue that is well-known and that there is support for change. The support I have received makes these experiences like going on the radio so much easier because I know I have a community that is ready to fight for change alongside me. I know that restricting the sale of flavored tobacco/nicotine products will improve the health of New Mexicans because it will lower the appeal of these products and encourage most of the users to quit! Most of the appeal is not the harsh chemicals, but the yummy flavors. Taking those away would benefit the majority and help stop the sale to minors as well. I am so passionate about this change because I know it is affecting youth in my community. There is pressure on my younger siblings and peers to try these harmful products, and they are tempted by the yummy flavors, which is why a change is necessary for our generation’s health. 

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