Ten Wisconsin students have recently been named as National Youth and Young Adult Ambassadors by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids for demonstrating leadership in fighting tobacco use in their communities.
Lodi’s Nicholas Prosek, 17, is now one of those youth ambassadors.
“I was so excited when I was named a Youth Tobacco Ambassador,” Prosek said. “It blew my mind that something I was so passionate about I could do on the national level.”
Prosek will be a senior at Lodi High School in the fall. He has been involved in tobacco control and prevention for the last five years, including working with FACT Wisconsin, an advocacy group of teenagers that is against the use of tobacco products and looks to spread information about all the dangers associated with tobacco use.
FACT Wisconsin was started in 2001 by 300 teens. Today, there are nearly 3,000 FACT members and 30 groups around the state.
Prosek began advocating against tobacco use when he was in the seventh grade through a group at Lodi Middle School called “Color Outside the Lines,” an anti-bullying group.
“I joined FACT through (Color Outside the Lines) and have been fighting against tobacco ever since,” he said.
There is a FACT group at LHS, which decorated the fences of the tennis courts with the message “Ditch the vape,” spelled out in multi-colored plastic cups. Vaping is a growing trend across the country.
The FACT Movement’s Facebook page releases a Friday FACT each week, explaining the dangers of tobacco use and various statistics about tobacco use in teens.
Once he joined FACT, Prosek’s advocacy grew even stronger.
“I have been super-involved in FACT ever since I started,” Prosek said. “I joined the FACT State Youth Board in 2018 and won the Southern Region Advocacy Award in FACT for 2020.”
A few teens have shared a little bit of their background with blurbs on its website, factmovement.org. Prosek’s says, “I have an uncle who smokes cigarettes and another that uses chewing tobacco, and I see how this affects their lives, and mine. At family gatherings, the smoker has to step out at least once every three hours to smoke. This takes away from valuable family time that he misses. My family member that uses chewing tobacco is very embarrassed that he uses it and tries to hide it from us, the kids.”
According to the FACT Movement website, the group “is for teens who care, for leaders who want to make a difference, for young people who are ready to be brave, and for those who have something to say. FACT is for any teen that’s had to deal with tobacco’s deadly consequences.”
The website goes on to note that everyone knows at least one person who has either used or died because of tobacco. Across Wisconsin, tobacco products kill nearly 8,000 people every year. “That’s about 650 a month, at least 21 every single day. Help us change that number for good,” the group states.
It also states, “Tobacco doesn’t play fair. It hits us (teens) up right when we’re ready to take some risks and figure out who we want to be. And some young people are way more vulnerable than others.”
As an ambassador in the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Prosek will enhance his advocacy skills and elevate his message through social media, while engaging and educating his peers to enhance the movement.
The Youth and Young Adult Ambassadors were selected through a competitive application process and participated in the five-day Digital Advocacy Symposium to become powerful advocates for change.
“I learned so much during symposium. I learned about media advocacy, cessation and advocacy, how tobacco is a social justice issue, and so much more,” Prosek said. “There were also some prerequisite courses we had to take before, and those were also very informational. The biggest takeaway was how to talk to decision makers and how to advocate on social media in the most effective way.”
The young leaders were among 133 youth and young adults from 33 states.
“We are thrilled to welcome this new class of Youth and Young Adult Ambassadors, whose passion and leadership will help us create the first tobacco-free generation,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Young people are critical voices in the fight against tobacco because they speak from experience about how they are targeted by the tobacco industry. Policy makers should listen and support strong policies to protect our kids, including a prohibition on all flavored tobacco products.”
While the U.S. has greatly reduced youth smoking, use of e-cigarettes among young people has skyrocketed in recent years. From 2017 to 2019, e-cigarette use more than doubled among high school students (to 27.5%) and tripled among middle school students (to 10.5%), according to the 2019 National youth Tobacco Survey. More than 5.3 million kids used e-cigarettes 2019 – an increase of more than three million in two years. Sweet flavors like gummy bear, mint and mango have fueled the popularity of e-cigarettes among kids.
Other flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, are also popular among youth. The tobacco industry has a long history of targeting kids, Black Americans and other groups with marketing for menthol cigarettes and other flavored products, with devastating consequences. More than half of all youth smokers today — including seven out of 10 Black youth smokers — smoke menthol cigarettes, and menthol smokers are less likely to quit.
Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing approximately 480,000 people and costing about $170 billion in health care bills each year.
In Wisconsin, about 5% of high school students smoke traditional cigarettes, while 20% use e-cigarettes.
The Youth and Young Adult Ambassadors will work with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to advocate for effective policies to reduce youth tobacco use at the federal, state and local levels. These policies include ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes that are addicting a new generation of kids.
“My goal this year is to bring new ideas to Lodi and Wisconsin from the national level,” Prosek said. “I plan on learning from people at the national level, and to help lead people in Wisconsin to make the right choices about teen nicotine use.”
For more information and to read some of the facts, visit www.factmovement,org and check out the FACT Movement on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.