ORLANDO – The need for youth to speak up and make their voices heard about the issues they care about is as important as ever, which is why one student-led organization in Florida is leading the way in the fight against the tobacco industry and the addictive products that target youth.
Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) is a statewide youth organization focused on educating, empowering, and mobilizing Florida youth to revolt against and de-glamorize Big Tobacco. As a member of the Orange County SWAT chapter, I believe SWAT is an important cause more youth should get involved in. SWAT does so much more than people realize. We not only educate youth on the effects of tobacco usage, we empower them to speak up about it. Despite significant progress over the years, tobacco and e-cigarette use is still prevalent, and the tobacco industry’s antics must be stopped. SWAT is working to change the social norms associated with tobacco, including e-cigarettes.
SWAT has been educating and empowering youth and communities since 1998. SWAT has had several successful initiatives throughout the years. ‘Not a Replacement’ was a statewide campaign where thousands of youth reminded tobacco companies that they are unique individuals with the potential to make a positive impact on their community. ‘Not a Lab Rat’ is the current statewide campaign that focuses on the truth behind e-cigarettes and how youth can stop the spread of misinformation. Through such initiatives, SWAT continues to work toward changing the way people think about tobacco, making it less desirable, less acceptable and less accessible.
My reason for joining SWAT was clear. I joined SWAT because my brother got very involved in tobacco and other substances and ended up having difficulty breathing. Joining SWAT helped me by giving me the opportunity to help prevent the same thing that happened to me from happening to others.
In our community, the Orange County SWAT chapter helped make a difference by cleaning up local parks, decorating posters to put around my school, recruiting youth to join SWAT during Back-to-School club fairs, attending online events with other SWAT chapters, and writing petitions to send to tobacco companies.
There is still work to be done to protect our generation and future generations from the tobacco industry. By working with peers, students can create change that will keep tobacco products out of Orange County and improve the health of our family, friends, and community. SWAT is open to all Florida youth in 6th-12th grade. There is a SWAT chapter in every county in Florida, and some counties also have clubs in schools and community organizations. In Orange County, we have five SWAT clubs, including one at Timber Creek High School and another at Lake Nona High School.
If you are interested in learning more about SWAT and how youth can get involved, contact Stephen Schaefer, at email@example.com or visit www.SWATFlorida.com. I hope that in writing this, more youth are inspired to stand up and speak out against the tobacco industry by joining SWAT.