INDIANAPOLIS— VOICE, Indiana’s statewide youth empowerment program, along with the Indiana Department of Health, hosted a Youth Day of Action Wednesday, Jan. 18, at the Indiana Statehouse to highlight actions that can be taken to lessen the impact commercial tobacco products have on young Hoosiers.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver, peer educators and youth advocates from around the state were in attendance.
Local VOICE groups and young people from across Indiana came together at the Statehouse to “Link Up” (the theme of the day) with their local representatives and other adult advocates to work towards the common goal of preventing youth tobacco use.
Each VOICE group brought paper links that they collected, and each individual link serves as a pledge from youth in their communities. Red links represent hope that they or a loved one will commit to a tobacco and nicotine free life; white links represent a pledge to live tobacco free; and finally, blue links help collect stories of how young people made a difference in their community.
An example of one of these stories of impact and change is from VOICE Youth Ambassador Suhita Chintalacharuvu.
“I chose to be here today because I had seen the dangers of tobacco and drug usage in my family and school and was determined to work towards change for the future of my community,” Chintalacharuvu said. “I am committed to this work with VOICE because tobacco usage is one of the most pressing issues for the youth in Indiana, and VOICE’s work has the great potential to empower students to fight the dangers of tobacco and drug use.”
Youth advocates shared a few factors that make young Hoosiers more vulnerable, including aggressive commercial tobacco marketing tactics, flavored products such as menthol and the increased amount of nicotine in modern vaping products.
“I really loved it! It was amazing to see the impact VOICE has had on schools and seeing how many people were there with the same goals as us was really encouraging!” said sophomore and VOICE Core leader Karissa Boesenberg. “The Statehouse itself was so beautiful, and being able to meet people of influence in our state was a bit intimidating but really exciting at the same time.”
“Vaping among Indiana’s youth is still a major public health concern,” said Weaver. “These youth are positively impacting the health of the generations that will follow them, as well as taking charge of their health.”
VOICE, seeks to engage, educate and empower youth to celebrate a tobacco-free lifestyle. As a statewide movement and youth empowerment program, VOICE is actively building a network of youth leaders to assist with the design and implementation of initiatives that will educate the community and empower their peers to avoid tobacco use.
Through positive youth development, youth leaders are trained to take action at the local level to create sustainable change in their communities and to partner with adult allies to implement youth-designed activism activities addressing prominent and emerging tobacco issues.