Teen ambassadors from across the state will lead a virtual anti-tobacco summit this Thursday. It’s part of a peer-to-peer education program called Youth Encouraging Alaskans’ Health, or YEAH.
Charlie Ess is an adult organizer with the program. He says the teens get trained in public speaking and presenting before going to health fairs and presenting in classrooms.
“These are folks dedicated to making healthy lives for people they know. And so they come up with what they think is important. And then they come up with ways to present that where they think it will resonate to the folks they present to,” Ess said.
The teens create tobacco prevention videos that teachers across the state use in their classrooms.
Leihla Harrison is a sophomore at Soldotna High School. She and another ambassador just finished making an educational video about the dangers of vaping.
“The best part for me is getting to teach other kids about how dangerous it is,” Harrison said. “Because I see all these kids are vaping, and they’re smoking in the bathrooms and in the parking lots. And I want to educate them that it’s not a good thing to do, that it harms them.”
Leena Edais is a sophomore at Dimond High School in Anchorage. She says she got involved with the program because a lot of her friends vape or use e-cigarettes.
“I know the effects of it, but a lot of kids don’t. They just think it’s like breathing air — flavored air — but it’s not. So I wanted to help kids around Alaska and the Lower 48,” she said.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that more than a third of Alaska teens have used some form of tobacco product.
The non-profit Rural Alaska Community Action Program has run the YEAH program for the last four years with funding from the state.