June 22, 2023

Coalitions in Action – Maryland Youth Take Back Their Ten

Last summer, CADCA was presented with the opportunity to collaborate with the Department of Health in Maryland, to create a comprehensive strategy for designing and launching a youth-led, adult-guided tobacco prevention and control movement. As the leaders of tomorrow, and as unfortunate targets of recent tobacco marketing efforts, youth are uniquely positioned to provide insight and lead change in the tobacco use landscape.

In September, the project began by conducting an extensive needs assessment to gauge the existing programs and coalitions involved in tobacco control across Maryland. A total of 21 individuals were interviewed, and 10 focus groups were conducted to gather valuable insights. These interactions provided a snapshot of the state’s needs, strengths, and assets for youth engagement opportunities; explored the current landscape of youth-serving programs and services available in Maryland, along with the state’s tobacco retail landscape; and provided a better understanding of youth use and perceptions around tobacco.

To officially launch the movement, CADCA recruited and identified youth leaders and adult advisors from each county in Maryland to establish a Maryland Statewide Youth Tobacco Advisory Council. Last month, these leaders convened for the first time at an informative and engaging Youth Summit, where they explored the history of tobacco regulation and policies in the U.S. and Maryland, as well as the manipulative marketing tactics employed by the industry, and participated in a variety of activities that provided prevention training and team building among the group.

During the summit, an engaging roleplay activity placed the youth into the shoes of CEOs and presidents of fictional tobacco companies. Tasked with designing retail marketing strategies for tobacco and vaping products, this exercise exposed the ease with which youth can be targeted by the industry and highlighted the tobacco industry’s relentless pursuit of profit. Following this activity, discussions unfolded on the economic impact of tobacco sales and the resulting health disparities caused by the use of these products.

Adult advisor, Erin Hamson, from the Drug-Free Cecil Coalition, shared, “For me, this activity was really eye-opening, because the youth were able to come up with products that could conceivably be very marketable and have legitimate potential for success. That proved to me that without even using these tobacco products, our youth are very knowledgeable about what’s currently on the market, because of its widespread prevalence. It also demonstrated how vulnerable this population could be to the marketing decisions of powerful companies.”

A significant aspect of this movement is involving the youth in decision-making processes. To solidify a sense of ownership among this group, the young participants were empowered to create a name for their movement. Through research and group work, they generated a variety of inspiring options. Eventually, the chosen name for this movement was selected to be “Take Back Your Ten” (TB10), which reflects their commitment not only to reclaiming the potential ten years lost in the average lifespan of tobacco users but also to advocating for their communities to join the cause.

“I feel really proud of the name we were able to come up with because it’s a call to action and really encapsulates the reason behind our movement. Also, the name in and of itself calls for explanation – in regard to the ‘ten’ – which I think will be great at opening up a dialogue,” said youth participant, Isabel Woehr.

Buoyed by the energy and enthusiasm at the summit, the project has now entered the second phase of its development. Rebranding efforts are currently underway to align all activities and initiatives under the official name, TB10. Additionally, to maintain momentum and connectivity, an upcoming virtual lunch session is planned for those who couldn’t attend the summit in-person to ensure ongoing collaboration and communication.

“From here, we really want to engage the youth and empower them to take ownership with the strategic planning process. We’ll be working together to develop initiatives, national days for the state of Maryland, and activities and service projects on both a regional and state-wide level. We’re here to provide structure, but we’re primarily allowing the youth to take the lead and shape the path forward,” said CADCA’s Youth Leadership Manager, Jasmine Gatlin.

Overall, the involvement of young individuals from across the state has brought fresh perspectives and energy to the cause. As the project moves forward, planning and implementing initiatives, it is poised to create a lasting impact in reducing tobacco use and empowering Maryland’s youth to “Take Back Your Ten.”

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