SPECIAL ENVOYS: 2 teens named national anti-tobacco ambassadors

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HANCOCK COUNTY — In a search spanning 29 states, two Hancock County teens were chosen to be National Youth Ambassadors for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

Lauren Silcox and Annie Twyford were among just three chosen from Indiana, out of the 70 ambassadors chosen throughout the country.

Their newfound roles position them to serve as mentors to their peers, encouraging fellow teens to steer clear of the dangers of tobacco use.

Lauren, an incoming junior at Greenfield-Central High Schooll; and Annie Twyford, an incoming senior from New Palestine High School, got involved with the campaign through Voice clubs at their schools.

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Voice Indiana is a statewide youth empowerment brand whose initiative is to engage, educate and empower teens to celebrate a tobacco-free lifestyle.

“It is a great honor to have two Hancock County Voice Indiana Youth leaders selected” as ambassadors, said Amanda Irizarry, youth program director for the Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Commission at the Indiana State Department of Health.

“Lauren and Annie are committed tobacco control champions who engage and inspire other youth to live and celebrate tobacco-free lifestyles. We are extremely proud of the work these young ladies are doing in their local communities with the local Voice Action Squad…. We are confident in their abilities to grow as leaders and advocates for tobacco-free lifestyles on a national level,” she said.

Annie said she wanted to become an ambassador to help spread the word about the dangers of tobacco use among teens.

“I think this is an important role to get to take on. There was a very small group of people to be chosen and it’s now in our hands to start helping make the change,” she said.

“Tobacco and vape usage is a problem that has spread drastically and has kids starting younger and younger, so if I get to have any impact on being able to inform people and help prevent them before starting, that is my main goal. I am here to learn, inform and hopefully get us closer to one of the first tobacco-free generations,” Annie said.

Lauren shares that goal.

“Unfortunately, I know many teens at my school do use e-cigarettes and are unaware of the damage they can cause. I hope in the future that the percentage of teens using nicotine products will drop to zero percent, and I hope to be one of those people who can help drop those numbers,” she said.

According to Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids Youth, the youth advocates were chosen for demonstrating their readiness to use their advocacy and leadership skills and help create the first tobacco-free generation.

The youth ambassadors will be on the front lines elevating the youth voice in local, state and national efforts to pass policies protecting kids from tobacco and e-cigarettes, according to a press release. They’ll each be trained in advocacy and will build their capacity for effective leadership with unique opportunities in the areas of public speaking, media engagement and influencing decision makers.

Dozens of other high school students from all four Hancock County high schools take on similar roles at the local level, advocating for a tobacco-free generation through Indiana’s Voice movement, which is sponsored locally by the Hancock County Tobacco Free Coalition and the local schools.

Brandee Bastin, the coalition’s coordinator, also serves as the Hancock County Voice Youth Coordinator and will be mentoring Lauren and Annie.

“To see our local youth serving at the national level on this leadership team will have such a positive impact on the local and statewide level. As their adult mentor for this program, I cannot wait to see what they do,” said Bastin, who has been a tobacco cessation specialist for the past 18 years.

She was hired when the Hancock County Tobacco Free Coalition was founded by Hancock Regional Hospital in 2002.

Bastin knows the importance of teens sharing an anti-tobacco stance with their peers. She thinks the vaping epidemic that has swept the nation makes tobacco cessation efforts even more vital.

“If the vaping rates go up, then we see the youth smoking and other tobacco use go up,” Bastin said.

“About two in three young people who start vaping will start other tobacco products as well. It’s a dangerous slope to walk down,” she said.

Bastin said she sees teens so addicted to tobacco that they can barely sit through a class period at school without the urge to smoke or vape. “We have kids who are seriously addicted,” she said.

Her job is not just about encouraging kids not to start tobacco use, but to help those who have started to quit. “It’s about getting them help, referring them to the Indiana tobacco quit-line and referring them to a program for support,” she said.

As part of her anti-tobacco message to youth, Bastin tells teens that the tobacco companies are in the business of trying to addict new customers.

“Their current customers are either dying or quitting. In order for them to stay in business, they have to addict each subsequent generation,” she said. “As much as they say they don’t target kids, the evidence is very clear they do.”

Bastin said there are more than 15,000 flavors of vaping juice on the market, which she interprets as a clear sign that the industry is trying to appeal to teens.

For information on the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, visit tobaccofreekids.org. For information on Indiana’s VOICE youth empowerment brand, visit voiceindiana.org. Follow the Hancock County Tobacco Free Coalition on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and Hancock County VOICE on Instagram at @hancock.voice.

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For information on the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, visit tobaccofreekids.org. For information on Indiana’s Voice youth empowerment brand, visit voiceindiana.org. Follow the Hancock County Tobacco Free Coalition on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and Hancock County VOICE on Instagram at @hancock.voice.

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