Springfield Teens Help Push Successful Ban of Tobacco Products in Local Pharmacies
Even as they pressed their case for reducing youth access to tobacco products at the State House during Kick Butts Day on Wednesday, members of the Springfield REACH after-school program could already claim a big victory in their fight against Big Tobacco.
Back home in Springfield, the city’s Public Health Council was voting to unanimously pass a ban on the sale of tobacco products in drug stores and stores with pharmacies. REACH (Recruitment and Educational Assistant for Careers in Health) members had been active in seeking the ban and had testified at a February public hearing, citing their own research on pharmacists’ positive attitudes to the proposed change.
Lay’Trice Jewell, 17, said that the group chose to concentrate on the ban because they saw the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products at their local CVS or Walgreens stores as “a total contradiction.”
“If a person is trying to help themselves,” she said, “they shouldn’t be tempted by tobacco.”
Springfield REACH joined The 84, a program managed by Health Resources in Action (HRiA) and funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, in 2008 so that its high school students could better fight tobacco in their community. Springfield REACH helps youth learn about careers in the health industry through competitions and tobacco prevention community service projects. Their research on the tobacco ban in pharmacies was funded by a grant from The 84.
The 84, a movement named for the percentage of youth who choose not to smoke, helped organize the Massachusetts Kick Butts Day event that brought the group to the State House office of Rep. Cheryl A. Coakley-Rivera, a Democrat from Springfield.
Tien Hua, 16, held up a clear plastic bag filled with smokeless and powdered tobacco in tin cans and shiny, colorful packages of little cigars that advertised mint and other flavors.
“It always floors me when you bring these out,” said Kate Flanagan, an aide to Coakley-Rivera, “It looks like gum.”
“The shocking thing is that these products cost less than gum,” countered Hua.
“We could fast for one day at school and then go buy tobacco products after,” added Nicole Pinard, the president of Springfield REACH.
These “other tobacco products” or OTPs represent the next generation of tobacco offerings which are aimed squarely at a younger market, according to Hye Won Lee, a program associate at HRiA.
“Some are endorsed by celebrities popular with youth and they all look a lot like candy,” Lee noted. “Knowing how sophisticated tobacco marketing has been historically, it’s hard not to assume this is all very intentional,” she said.
Students also told personal stories about family members and friends who use tobacco products. One student spoke about her father’s use of tobacco products; another explained how smoke affects her grandparents, who both have asthma.
As potential health care providers, the members’ aspirations also provided them with a motive to act on this public health issue in their community.
Jewell said she and her peers had participated in this event to help get their message across to their state and local officials. The passing of the pharmacy ban leaves no doubt, their voices had been heard.