Nicole Semenza, Public Policy Associate

Youth and Advocacy Success from Advocate of the Year Recipient

Ananya Pati is not yet old enough to vote, but has already influenced great social change. A young leader in the Standing Strong and Link Together Coalition, Ananya is currently a senior in high school, and in February will be accepting CADCA’s Advocate of the Year award at the  2018 National Leadership Forum.

Ananya credits her passion for policy to CADCA Youth Leadership’s training on advocacy. Ananya first attended CADCA’s National Leadership Forum in 2016, sitting through several policy and advocacy courses, completing the Key Essentials courses, and learning how to change policies in her local community. She built on her public speaking experience, a key skill in advocacy, through CADCA’s trainings. Ananya’s coalition decided to work on e-cigarette smoking/vaping as students noticed increasing usage among peers in the classroom. Ananya and her fellow coalition youth were troubled by the marketing of e-cigarettes to look like other products (such as a USB drive), which made e-cigarette use more accessible in public spaces. This, combined with the rise in e-cigarette misuse among young people, inspired them to target this method and substance. They called it Tobacco 21 and framed it as a public health problem.

From the advocacy courses, Ananya knew that her coalition should focus on collecting data to better understand the problem. She and the other young people in her coalition decided to distribute surveys to youth in schools to better understand the market for e-cigarettes that attracted their peers. They took the findings from these surveys directly to local businesses and restaurants highlighting national e-cigarette use among young people data which showed significantly higher rates of use than adults, and portended consequences if the trends continued unabated.  

A barrier they faced was receiving buy-in from businesses who sold the products, fearful that the ordinance would be a disincentive. The young people also realized that local “entrepreneurs” in their school purchased e-cigarettes and sold them to underage students. The young leaders worked on understanding the arguments and crafted responses to be persuadable to all audiences, from students to politicians. Having the local data was critical in helping Ananya and her team articulate that the local ordinance would protect youth and would not result in a gross loss of revenue for businesses. Once local business owners understood the findings, they agreed to support the ordinance.

Later that year, in 2016, Ananya’s coalition worked to pass an ordinance that banned the smoking of e-cigarettes in places where traditional cigarette smoking was also banned. In 2017 at CADCA’s National Leadership Forum, Ananya presented on how individuals can frame language for achieving maximum impact during the youth leadership training courses. This enabled her to experience presenting to different audiences and learn how to provide more than just information. At present, the coalition has worked in three communities in Illinois have passed local ordinances to raise the age of purchasing tobacco to 21: Lincolnshire, Vernon Hills, Buffalo Grove.

Ananya attributes these policy wins to education – the coalition educating themselves on the issue and being able to effectively educate elected officials. Additionally, the successful policy changes occurred because the youth worked comprehensively with many community stakeholders. Facilitating these relationships was critical in executing Tobacco 21.

Ananya’s goal is to make the age of purchasing tobacco 21 a statewide law. Next year, Ananya hopes to go to college to study business and law. Ananya’s incredible work underscores the potential of young people to make a lasting difference in their communities.