By Yashi Srivastava, Middlesex County Youth Ambassador Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

The use of tobacco in the U.S. is the No. 1 cause of preventable death. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) is a non-profit organization that has dedicated more than 20 years to protecting children and saving lives from tobacco use, and is the leading advocacy organization working on tobacco control issues in the United States and globally. They envision a future free of death and disease caused by tobacco. Through communication, policy, and advocacy campaigns, they promote solutions that will effectively reduce tobacco use and save the most lives.

CTFK supports various youth initiatives to get youth voices involved in this fight against Big Tobacco. One of the initiatives is an opportunity for an individual to become a National Youth Ambassador. The ambassadors consist of middle school, high school, and college-aged students who are selected through a competitive application process. Students who show leadership in fighting tobacco in their communities get selected to annually represent their states. Additionally, ambassadors receive training at a week-long Youth Advocacy Symposium and proceed to participate in activities throughout the year.

This year, in the face of COVID-19 and social distancing, CTFK held its first Digital Advocacy Symposium for Ambassadors to gain knowledge about being a powerful advocate for change in communities. Ambassadors were trained on the power of youth in advancing social justice, mastering traditional and social media, and influencing decision-makers. During the Symposium, Ambassadors got to hear from speakers and experienced advocates about their unique power in creating social change as youth leaders. They received information on how to use print media and social media to expand their efforts and advance their policy goals. They went deep into the policy process and learned how to use their voice to influence decision-makers and create change. They connected with young advocates from across the country to learn more from their peers about advocacy. With all these skills, they will continue to work with the CTFK team to elevate their advocacy efforts and work towards strong tobacco control policies at local, state, and federal levels.

Advocacy starts in small communities and townships with active students who are willing to make a difference. Nora Abdelfattah and I, Yashi Srivastava, got selected to be ambassadors for CTFK. After reflecting on what tobacco control meant to us, we completed various online courses offered by the campaign. The courses aimed to educate us about the different aspects of the tobacco industry and ways to approach the problem. Before the symposium, we got to take courses such as “The Rise of Vaping” and “Mastering the Media”, which helped us build a foundation of knowledge. Being ambassadors for such an impactful organization gives us a way to connect with advocates around the country to stand up against Big Tobacco.

Along with advocates, individuals are demanding to be heard and youth are taking initiative. Studies show that 90% of adult smokers began their addiction as teenagers or earlier. CTFK emphasizes how critical youth and their voices are in this fight. Youth encourage their peers to be tobacco-free, stand up to Big Tobacco and its tactics, and urge elected leaders to take action. The youth initiatives of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids allow young leaders to gain a bigger platform to make the next generation tobacco-free.

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