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With SWAT, Florida Youth Have the Tools They Need to Reduce Tobacco Industry’s Influence

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By Jakiah Brown

The need for youth to speak up and make their voices heard about the issues they care about is as important as ever, which is why one student-led organization in Florida is leading the way in the fight against the tobacco industry and the addictive products that target youth.

Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) is a statewide youth organization focused on educating, empowering, and mobilizing Florida youth to revolt against and de-glamorize Big Tobacco. “As a member of the Hernando SWAT chapter, I believe SWAT is an important cause more youth should get involved in.

We cannot let the Big Tobacco and the e-cigarette industry target youth and just sit back and allow it to happen. They are targeting us with fruity-flavored e-cigarettes. We are smarter than that and should not only educate and protect ourselves but protect other youth. SWAT is a very important cause more youth should get involved in.”

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Despite significant progress over the years, tobacco and e-cigarette use is still prevalent, and the tobacco industry’s antics must be stopped. SWAT is working to change the social norms associated with tobacco, including e-cigarettes.

SWAT has been educating and empowering youth and communities since 1998. SWAT has had several successful initiatives throughout the years. ‘Not a Replacement’ was a statewide campaign where thousands of youth reminded tobacco companies that they are unique individuals with the potential to make a positive impact on their community. ‘Not a Lab Rat’ is the current statewide campaign that focuses on the truth behind e-cigarettes and how youth can stop the spread of misinformation. Through such initiatives, SWAT continues to work toward changing the way people think about tobacco, making it less desirable, less acceptable and less accessible.

My reason for joining SWAT was clear. “I joined the SWAT Club because my brother got caught vaping. He joined the SWAT club in Hernando County and he would share what he learned. I realized that I could also make a difference in my community.” Joining SWAT helped me by “giving me the training and tools to go out in the community and confidently advocate for change.

In our community, the Hernando SWAT chapter helped make a difference by recruiting youth to join SWAT during the City of Brooksville Back-to-School Event and Hernando County Sheriff’s Department Safety and Funfest. Our SWAT chapter also attended local events such as the Brooksville Pumpkin Fest and the Hernando Department of Health’s Trunk or Treat event to promote the dangers of youth e-cigarette and tobacco use.

Hernando SWAT is making positive changes within the county by getting a Tobacco-Free Parks Ordinance approved through the County Commissioners for all parks in the Historic City of Brooksville. We are proud of our Commissioners for creating tobacco-free spaces and clean air for youth with this ordinance.”

There is still work to be done to protect our generation and future generations from the tobacco industry. By working with peers, students can create change that will keep tobacco products out of Hernando County and improve the health of our family, friends, and community. SWAT is open to all Florida youth in 6th-12th grade. There is a SWAT chapter in every county in Florida, and some counties also have clubs in schools and community organizations. In Hernando County, we have three (3) clubs/one (1) chapter locations.

If you are interested in learning more about SWAT and how youth can get involved, contact Jewel McNaughton at [email protected] or visit www.SWATFlorida.com. I hope that in writing this, more youth are inspired to stand up and speak out against the tobacco industry by joining SWAT.

Jakiah Brown is a dedicated member of the Hernando Community Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) program.

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