John D. O’Bryant School Youth Group Wins Award at Virtual Kick Butts Day: Take Down Tobacco Ceremony

This year, the annual Kick Butts Day event at the Massachusetts State House could not take place. However youth from The 84 Movement still wanted an event to celebrate their efforts to reduce the influence of the tobacco and vaping industries in their communities. So the young leaders created and participated in a virtual training and awards ceremony via Zoom on April 29. The 245 participating youth and adults from around the Commonwealth all work to educate and mobilize young people in their communities about tobacco and vaping industry targeting.

The 84 Movement virtual event celebrated the groundbreaking legislation in Massachusetts that restricts the sale of flavored tobacco products, including mint and menthol products. The importance of the new law and other efforts to protect youth is heighted during the time of the coronavirus as evidence grows that smoking and vaping can harm the body’s ability to fight COVID-19.

Opening remarks at the virtual Kick Butts Day: Take Down Tobacco awards ceremony were delivered by Senator John Keenan and Representative Danielle Gregoire, co-authors of An Act to Modernize Tobacco Control. They emphasized that youth activism played a pivotal role in the development and passage of what Senator Keenan called “the nation-leading law.” Senator Keenan explained that the strong bill became a law because “quite simply we had an incredible group of young people standing up for their generation.”

During the awards ceremony, awards were presented to individuals and chapters of The 84 Movement for their dedication to reducing the impact of tobacco in their communities and across Massachusetts. The 2020 Community Change Award went to PUSH-Up Peer Leaders from the John D. O’Bryant School in Boston. The Community Change Award is presented to a chapter for demonstrating exceptional efforts in advancing local policies that reduce youth exposure to tobacco industry tactics.

Students from the PUSH-Up Peer Leaders attended bi-weekly chapter meetings, went to rallies and visited the State House to make their voices heard. They promoted health and wellness in their community and partnered with other organizations to host peer-to-peer trainings. Especially noteworthy, the PUSH-Up Peer Leaders attended a hearing of the Boston Public Health Commission as it considered restricting where flavored tobacco products, including mint and menthol products, are sold. Giving testimony in a room that included fifty tobacco store owners and workers, the young leaders spoke about why the flavor restriction is important and why public health should be a priority. They consistently stand up for racial justice and health equity, addressing how people of color, particularly black people, are targeted by the tobacco and vaping industries. 

John Daley, the adult advisor and founder of the PUSH-Up Peer Leaders program expressed his gratitude for the award and his pride for what the youth have accomplished. “It feels amazing the youth are being recognized for their hard work. They have a passion and strength when they speak, and it really makes a difference. Youth voices are the spark for change, and it feels amazing to see the effect the youth have had on local policy change.”

The youth of the program were also very happy to be winning the award. Paula Villarruel, a member of the PUSH-Up program, stated “I was not expecting it but it really shows all the work we have been doing and it feels nice to be recognized. I am proud of how much we have done in the PUSH-Up Peer Leadership Program and I am really excited about the things we will do in the future. I really enjoy being part of the PUSH-Up program because we are trying to make our community a better and safer place for teens.”

At previous Kick Butts Day events at the State House, hundreds of youth from The 84 Movement visited their legislators telling stories of tobacco industry influences that concern them and explaining their work to pass protective local policies in their communities. Following this year’s online event, The 84 Movement chapters are virtually thanking their legislators for hearing their voices, listening to their local stories over the years, and doing their part to protect youth from a lifetime of nicotine addiction.

The 84 Movement is a program of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program, developed and managed in partnership with Health Resources in Action. Created in 2007, The 84 represents the 84% of Massachusetts youth who did not smoke cigarettes (in 2017 that number was 93%).  For more information on The 84 Movement and the work being done throughout the Commonwealth to reduce tobacco and vaping industry influence on youth, visit www.The84.org, mass.gov/vaping and www.makesmokinghistory.org

The Metro Boston Tobacco-Free Community Partnership supports communities’ efforts to lower smoking prevalence and exposure to secondhand smoke; enhance state and local tobacco control efforts by exposing tobacco industry tactics; mobilizing the community to support and adopt evidence-based policies; and changing social norms. Funded by the Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program, Community Partnerships serve as a resource for local coalitions, health and human service agencies, municipalities, and workplaces on tobacco intervention efforts.

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