Cherokee Teens Train for Tobacco-Free Advocacy

February 1, 2016

A dynamic youth group in Cherokee County is on a mission. 

The Cherokee Youth Council, an initiative of Drug Free Cherokee, is a powerful and diverse set of teen leaders who are committed to making a difference in their communities. Their mission is to create a healthier future for Cherokee County by being a voice, taking action and making positive changes at the local level.

A major focus for the group is the prevention and cessation of tobacco use, which includes tobacco prevention advocacy. Council members recently devoted a Saturday to learning skills in advocating for tobacco-free policies and environmental changes that could make their communities healthier places.

The training, held at the Northside Hospital-Cherokee Conference Center in Canton, was provided by Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!). YES! is a national nonprofit organization that equips youth and their adult allies with the tools they need to positively impact adolescent health.

Adult leaders in attendance included Cherokee County resident and Georgia PTA President Lisa-Marie Haygood, JoAnne Hammermaster, the Health and Wellness chair for Georgia PTA and Cherokee County resident Kirby Lewis-Hobba of Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta.

The training also included an inspirational talk from local resident Janice Hayes of Greater Atlanta Voice Masters. Hayes underwent a laryngectomy after 32 years of smoking and a diagnosis of laryngeal cancer.

“Since my diagnosis several years ago, I have chosen to be a very vocal advocate against smoking and all forms of tobacco use,” said Hayes.

Hayes has spoken to a wide variety of groups about the serious consequences of using tobacco. And, indeed, the consequences are quite serious.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health’s (DPH) 2015 Georgia Tobacco Use Surveillance Report, more than 10,000 adult Georgians die from smoking-related illnesses each year, and approximately 14,000 (4%) middle school students and 53,000 (13%) high school students in Georgia smoke cigarettes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that nicotine poses dangers to pregnant women and fetuses, children and adolescents. Youth use of nicotine in any form, including Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (also called ENDS, which include e-cigarettes and vaping devices), is unsafe.

As a result of the YES! training, the Cherokee Youth Council combined its previous knowledge of health with new knowledge of the dangers of tobacco use and advocacy for change to create an action plan of tobacco-free advocacy events and presentations.

“Teens are the leaders of tomorrow,” said Marcos Gomez, a 10th grader at Sequoyah High School who participated in the training. “We must enlighten teens and adults about what is happening to their bodies and to our environment due to the effects of tobacco use.”

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