News and Events

Students Working Against Tobacco:
The Importance of Youth Involvement

March 4, 2016

At this time of the year, Students Working Against Tobacco members are planning community events to commemorate Kick Butts Day to get the word out to their peers and others about tobacco marketing aimed at youth. To highlight the importance of youth involvement in tobacco prevention programs, one of our Gilchrist County SWAT alumni, Chandler Ash, gives his thoughts on this issue and shares a little about the lasting impact his involvement in SWAT has made on some in the community.

The Voice of Youth
by Chandler Ash

“The lonely voice of youth cries: ‘What is truth?’” Johnny Cash wrote that line in 1970, but those words can apply to tobacco prevention in 2016.

The voice of youth is incredibly powerful when directed at decision makers, sometimes even more so than a tax paying, voting adult. But how can that be true when kids don’t have a say in how anything is done? The fact that youth generally don’t have much power is precisely why their voice is so powerful.

Generally, youth are not found at county commission meetings, school board meetings, or similar situations because they feel they don’t have a reason to be. They believe that they can’t change anything. In my experience in high school, I found that the opposite is actually the truth. The fact that kids are usually nowhere to be seen around important decision makers is why those decision makers pay attention when a young person steps up to the podium. If a teenager has the guts to get up in front of a group of important people and speak, it commands attention.


I live in Alachua County, and once attended a county commission meeting to speak about a proposed ordinance to extend the laws restricting cigarettes to cover e-cigarettes as well. At the time I was 17, and the commissioners said I was the youngest person they had ever heard speak at a meeting.  I was just months away from having the ability to vote for the people sitting in the seats in front of me, yet they were shocked someone so young would speak. Even a reporter from a newspaper that happened to be in the meeting wanted to take my name down so they could make a note of it.

This is why groups like SWAT are so important. Now, I am a Student Ambassador at Santa Fe College, and I will occasionally work with some of the same elected officials that I spoke to through SWAT in high school, and nine times out of ten they still remember me and what I talked to them about.

If a skinny little 16-17 year old kid can make a lasting impression on a politician like that, certainly others like him can.