The Vermont Kids Against Tobacco students of Brattleboro Area Middle School spent the past school year raising awareness about how the tobacco industry targets youth with advertising and products in the retail environment, and the impact this has on youth starting to use tobacco. VKAT is a statewide initiative for middle-school students
The Surgeon General concluded, based on scientific evidence, that the marketing of tobacco products to youth is a cause of youth tobacco use. Specifically one-third of teenage smoking experimentation is a result of tobacco advertising — that means that advertising is actually convincing kids to try tobacco products.
VKAT is a statewide initiative for students in fifth grade through eighth grade working together with school staff and community prevention coalitions to help decrease smoking rates among Vermont's youth.
BAMS's VKAT members celebrated Kick Butts Day on March 16 by asking their peers to make a pledge to stay tobacco-free! Kick Butts Day is a national day of activism to stand up to Big Tobacco companies and to refuse to be a "replacement smoker." Tobacco companies coined the phrase "replacement smokers" to describe potential young consumers who can make up for the current ones who are dying or who have quit using their products.
The members also displayed a banner during lunch and asked peers if they wanted to sign the banner as a pledge to stay tobacco-free. The members were excited about the positive response of their peers. "I was surprised to see how many students wanted to sign the banner because it meant something to them" said member Alexis Miller.
Another member Wynona Powell was happy to see students standing up for what they wanted to be above the influence of when facing perceived peer pressure. She shared that "some kids signed it even though they were with friends who I know smoke. It meant a lot to see them sign it anyways."
According to CounterBalanceVT.org, "Retail stores are the primary place where tobacco companies recruit new tobacco users, and nearly 90 percent of those new users are underage youth. Youth exposure to tobacco marketing is directly correlated to youth tobacco use, with an estimated one-thrid of teenage smoking experimentation resulting from tobacco advertising." The members are teaching their peers about tobacco marketing and the importance of refusing to be under the influence of the tactics used by Big Tobacco companies.
The members are also recognizing local retailers through a new project called Star Store Project. Stores in the community are being provided Star Store certificates. The certificates are to recognize retailers who are helping to reduce youth's exposure to tobacco products and marketing. Retailers who choose not to sell tobacco products will receive a Gold Star certificate. Retailers who chose not to advertise their tobacco products will receive a Silver Star certificate; and those who chose not to advertise one or both of these product on the outside of their business will receive a Bronze Star certificate. Students went to stores by their school to hand-deliver the certificates in April. Others were mailed with letters.
VKAT will continue to be part of the Brattleboro Area Middle School's BEAMS afterschool program the next school year. If your child is in middle-school and you would like to learn more, reach out to VKAT advisor School Nurse Linda Rinder as the members will continue to educate our community an their peers about how the tobacco industry is targeting them as "replacement smokers."
Cassandra Holloway is the director of Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition. Matters of Substance is a collaborative column of Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition. BAPC works to prevent and reduce substance abuse in the Windham Southeast area.