February 26, 2020

Coalitions in Action – Healthy Lamoille Valley Youth Talks About Vaping in His Community and How He Used Capitol Hill Day to Advocate for Change

“Vaping is a complicated issue with many factors influencing youth use,” said Healthy Lamoille Valley Coordinator Jessica Bickford. “We checked in with our students to get their thoughts and they are represented throughout this feature. The students wanted readers to take note that vaping is certainly an issue impacting our region, but marijuana use is also concerning and often overlaps with vaping nicotine.”

“Use impacts schoolwork,” said Bickford, “students who might otherwise be focused on school are now thinking of their next vape or their next high. They leave class to vape, a lot. Teachers don’t always pick up on it. There are a lot of jokes about it between students. It’s not uncommon for a student to be offered to vape in school. Relationships can be impacted when a student decides not to vape, but their friends still use. Other students can feel stigmatized by their peers for vaping and in turn feel like they’re not getting the support they need from their friends when they do try to quit.” 

“Our Student Resource Officer, Katie Palmer, routinely sees the loophole devices in the school where she serves,” said Bickford. “These flavored, non-refillable, non-rechargeable devices are designed by the tobacco industry to specifically get around the more recent legislation that has been enacted to protect youth. These devices continue youth use and also create waste that is being noticed by students.”

“We are seeing targeted ads and other youth-oriented ways to get kids to use vaping devices,” said Bickford. “Teens also have easy access to the internet which has allowed companies to distribute their products into the hands of teens who then use them or provide them to their friends. This puts electronic cigarettes into our schools and creates a cycle of teens who would otherwise not use these products.”  

“For many of our students it’s personal,” said Bickford. “They have seen family and friends struggle with the negative impacts of substance use disorder. Our students are excited to find a connection to the resources out there on why substance use is an issue and then turn these facts into actions helping others One student put it this way, Knowing that you have the ability to help… you’ve just got to help.’”

“This work is really about giving the youth opportunity to see that they have a voice, sharing the data and education so that they can speak knowledgeably about the issues, and providing opportunities to use their voices,” said Bickford. “They already care deeply about these issues and the negative impacts on their peers. Once they are equipped, the students seize the opportunity to stand up.” 

“It shows that, as a younger generation, we care about helping others,” said 8th grader and Healthy Lamoille Valley Youth Russell. “We are affected by it and we care.”

“When youth speak they do so out of their experiences of how they and their classmates are being impacted by the issue,” said Bickford. “It’s authentic. Most policy makers care and when they see something that is negatively impacting youth they want to help.” 

Andi, a 9th grade coalition member shared, “All policies affect youth. Youth are affected by everything else; youth should have a say in that policy.”

“The youth in our coalition are helping to identify problems in their community and meeting with decision makers who willing to listen and do something,” said Bickford. “They feel there is still much work to be done, but we’re off to a good start. Student involvement was a crucial part of becoming a new Drug Free Grantee in 2019.” 

“It was important for us to gather as a large crowd at the rally to be seen as a group and then go meet with our legislators,” said Bickford. “We were part of a delegation of 64 Vermonters who went to speak with our Representatives. We met with Congressman Peter Welch outside in the courtyard, because our group was so large. We met with staffers from Senator Leahy’s and Senator Sander’s offices as the Senators had to be at a vote. All their staffers were intent on listening to our issues and asking questions. We felt heard and respected. Some of the congressional staff indicated they may come to us for information in the future.”   

Luca, a 9th grader, shared his experience, saying “My experience from Capitol Hill Day was one that instilled new hope and energy from the powerful speakers to the hundreds of youth who participated in this event. Despite the rain, we were determined to not let it get in our way of educating and advocating our legislators on the problems and successes we are seeing in our communities. I was able to talk to Congressman Peter Welch and the staff of Senator Leahy and Senator Sanders. They all eagerly took notes on what was being said and all commented on the power of our words united in standing up for change. I loved being a part of this wave of change and hope to come back to continue the fight.” 

“CADCA has definitely been a resource for us,” said Bickford. “The National Leadership Forum training has given us new ideas to bring back to our communities. Additionally, the CADCA Community has been very helpful in connecting with coalitions across the country to gather ideas and seek input. When we have questions, chances are someone’s done it and they’re willing to share. The printed primers have helped us with board development.” 

“From a coordinator’s perspective,” said Bickford, “make youth a priority. Take time to build authentic relationships in your community – those relationships advance your work. Do your research and know your data – one of our students noted that sharing data was the most important takeaway from CADCA Forum, as it will allow him to talk about the issues with authority.”

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