Back in 2001, 300 Wisconsin teens started FACT, an organization created to fight the epidemic of tobacco use among youth. Today, there are nearly 3,000 FACT members that spread the truth about tobacco throughout our state. Their work might be more crucial now than ever.
Recent statistics show that 20 percent of high-schoolers in Wisconsin smoke e-cigarettes, and 11% of middle schoolers have already tried an e-cigarette. Moreover, the second most popular tobacco product amongst youth, especially in inner-city of Milwaukee, are cigars and cigarillos which are available in countless different candy and fruit flavors at gas stations for as low as 99 cents!
All of these products contain nicotine and are getting young people addicted. How are underage youth able to get their hands on these products, you ask? Well in Milwaukee, 19 percent of retailers sold tobacco products to minors during compliance checks in 2017. Many of our own FACT members in Milwaukee, associated with the ‘Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network’ have found it very easy to purchase tobacco products despite being minors.
These statistics show the importance of the role that FACT plays on the future of our youth in Wisconsin. Members of FACT participate in several different activities throughout the year such as: educating youth about the dangers of smoking, leading activism initiatives, peer-to-peer advocacy, media outreach, and talking to Wisconsin’s leaders.
One of their biggest achievements include raising the citation for selling tobacco to minors from $187 to $691! Their efforts have helped lower smoking rates, raise tobacco taxes and pass clean air laws in various parts of Wisconsin. This summer our youth have been conducting Tobacco retailer assessments: surveying how tobacco retailers advertise tobacco and the prices and availability of various tobacco products at various stores throughout Milwaukee.
The youth immediately recognized how tobacco is often placed right next to candy, a potential lure for young people who can be challenged at telling the difference between fruit flavored candies and tobacco products. Moreover, the availability of singles and different flavors of tobacco products at cheap prices further attract youth. One of the most recent activities that our local FACT members participated in could have wide ranging impacts.
They were invited to and participated in an all-expenses-paid tobacco prevention conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. The conference was called ‘Truth Action Summit’, which took place from the July 16- 18. The conference equipped around 200 high-schoolers, including our FACT youth and other young people from various parts of Ohio and its surrounding states with the skills and knowledge to curb and prevent smoking in their communities. The students attended various sessions learning about various issues surrounding the tobacco industry: like the social justice issue of how they have been targeting the African American community with menthol cigarettes throughout history thereby widening the health disparities between communities.
The students were also trained to conduct an effective event on the national day of action, which will occur in the Fall of this year. The National day of action will be a nationwide movement where high school students all over America will be spreading the truth about tobacco. This year’s focus for the national day of action will be e-cigarettes and Flavors. No one knows the long-term effects of e-cigarettes, and humans are being used as lab rats to test its effects. I hope that eventually all youth have access to the information and resources to help quit smoking: eventually making our future generations smoke-free.