(LOUISVILLE, Ky - September 9, 2019) A student-driven project at Hazard High School to educate youth and community members about the dangers of tobacco use is the latest recipient of a Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion Award. The award, announced today by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, recognizes the students' progress in advocating for smoke-free and tobacco-free policies and talking with peers about reducing their tobacco use.
The Hazard High School Tobacco-free Ambassador Partnership (HHS TAP) program is a partnership between the school and the University of Kentucky/BREATHE that is supported by the CVS Health Foundation. Twenty-four students are participating in the program: Brittany Vires, Makenzie Baker, Cage Watts, Simone Beverly, Trajon Campbell, Catherine Cornwell, Zoe Pennington, Kyleah Maggard, Shelbi Ritchie, Madison Eddington, Bella Dawhare, Jared Hoskins, Dakota Sharpey, Andrew Nyguen, Kennedi Artrip, Ava Dixon, Laura Hanna, Abby Stoffel, Ben Handshoe, Jarrett Napier, Sarah Jo Campbell, Kendra Miller, Alexa Muha and Katie Braman.
Over the course of the 2018-2019 school year they conducted surveys, participated in training and organized and hosted a variety of activities and events to raise awareness of the dangers of tobacco use. For one project, they filmed the school's "iconic" retired band director, a former smoker, for a video about her success in kicking a 30-year smoking habit. The students also identified opportunities to strengthen existing smoke-free and tobacco-free policies in their community. And they have written letters to the legislature and visited Frankfort to support the tobacco-free schools legislation that passed in 2019.
The experience is changing students' perspectives about their role in health advocacy. Zoe Pennington, a senior at Hazard High School, said, "My involvement with TAP has made me realize that the only thing you need to do to make a difference is have courage. I'm so thankful for the message TAP shares - that students have a voice, and we need to share the dangers of the addiction that takes so many youths each year."
"When they first started, many of the youth were not comfortable talking about tobacco-related issues in their community given the negative response typically elicited," said Melinda Ickes, Ph.D., an associate professor in the University of Kentucky College of Education. "Similarly, they had never thought about tobacco policy in the context of improving health outcomes in their community. However, a few months into the TAP collaboration, the youth were eager to talk about tobacco and the benefits of evidence-based tobacco policies. They hosted and participated in a variety of school- and community-based activities to ensure their voices were heard. They developed communication materials to share with peers, teachers, and administrators in their school. They also encouraged others to support being 'tobacco-free' through petitions, signing a large banner that is displayed in the school, and through TAP bracelets that have helped to create a known presence in their school. The youth have now built a foundation to continue work in this area."
"To engage other schools and the community HHS TAP has set up at district tournament games to share information, ask for tobacco-free pledges, and give away promotional items encouraging a tobacco-free environment," said Foundation Community Advisory Council members Fran Feltner and Melissa Slone. "This group of students are having an impact on youth and adults in their community."
The HHS TAP program is now eligible for the Gil Friedell Health Policy Champion award, which comes with a $5,000 grant from the Foundation to a Kentucky-based nonprofit of the winner's choice. The winner of that award will be announced on Sept. 23 at the Foundation's Howard L. Bost Memorial Health Policy Forum in Lexington. Nominations for the Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion Award are accepted at any time. See details on the Foundation's website.
About the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky
Funded by an endowment, the mission of the nonpartisan Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is to address the unmet health needs of Kentuckians by developing and influencing policy, improving access to care, reducing health risks and disparities, and promoting health equity. Since the Foundation opened its doors in 2001, it has invested more than $27 million in health policy research, advocacy, and demonstration project grants across the Commonwealth Follow the Foundation on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and visit our website at www.healthy-ky.org.
Bonnie J. Hackbarth