Calling all teens: Anti-tobocco group hosts annual leadership summit

End it: The NYC Smoke Free program is hosting the third annual teen leadership summit in Manhattan on Nov. 10. The event teaches teens how to combat falling victim to powerful advertising and become community advocates speaking out.
Associated Press / Ben Margot

An anti-tobacco advocacy organization is hosting its annual teen leadership summit in Manhattan this weekend.

The Nov. 10 event organized by NYC Smoke Free — a program spearheaded by the public health association Public Health Solutions, is geared at increasing youth awareness on the harmful effects of smoking and mobilizing teens how to be outspoken critics against smoking to their peers and community, said a coordinator of the event.

“We are a health advocacy that increases awareness about tobacco use, smoking rates, and we equip teens with leadership skills and being public speakers to engage other youth and community members,” said Youth Engagement Manager, Vonetta Dudley.

The five-hour Saturday event will be the third annual summit, and one of the primary subjects on the agenda is education and providing teens with knowledge.

“This event not only teaches them about advocacy, but how it affects them, and we also empower them to become leaders and getting involved,” she added.

The current state of tobacco issues affecting teens in the city includes some 15,000 public high school students who are smokers. That ties in with the number of promotional tobacco ads targeting teens in their communities, which outnumbers the amount of green space and outdoor leisure areas, according to Dudley. She says one of the program’s mission is to show the youth how to recognize pro-smoking fliers, and how powerful advertising can be.

“A lot of my students have said that they see tobacco ads when they’re walking to and from school, and they’re more likely to find these tobacco outlets more than parks or playgrounds,” she said. “But one thing we do is help them see how tobacco gets into their community from the ads that they see when they’re passing stores.”

With the rise of electronic smoking devices, such as e-cigs, Dudley said teens often assume that smoking with the use of the device, better known as vaping, is a safer alternative. But unbeknownst to many — the liquids that give off the smoke contains addicting chemicals.

“A lot of kids are seeing that vaping is popular and are starting to use those products, but we educate them that they still contain nicotine, which is in cigarettes,” said Dudley.

Dudley says hundreds of teens turn out for the event and leave better informed about the effects of tobacco and how it can damage their community. And they also learn valuable speech skills along the way.

“I think this would be a great thing for them to learn more about tobacco, and they can learn how to advocate for change in their community, how to share that information with their peers, and educate their peers on what do differently by becoming public speakers,” she said.

Teen Leadership Summit at Public Health Solutions [40 Worth St. between W. Broadway and Church Street, 5th Floor in Tribeca, (646) 619-6488, www.nycsmokefree.org]. Nov. 10, noon–4 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected]local.com. Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.

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