This year, the annual Kick Butts Day event at the Massachusetts State House could not take place. However, youth from The 84 Movement still wanted an event to celebrate their efforts to reduce the influence of the tobacco and vaping industries in their communities. So the young leaders created and participated in a virtual training and awards ceremony via Zoom on April 29. The 245 participating youth and adults from around the Commonwealth all work to educate and mobilize young people in their communities about tobacco and vaping industry targeting.
The 84 Movement virtual event celebrated the groundbreaking legislation in Massachusetts that restricts the sale of flavored tobacco products, including mint and menthol products. The importance of the new law and other efforts to protect youth is heighted during the time of the coronavirus as evidence grows that smoking and vaping can harm the body’s ability to fight COVID-19.
Opening remarks at the virtual Kick Butts Day: Take Down Tobacco awards ceremony were delivered by Senator John Keenan and Representative Danielle Gregoire, co-authors of An Act to Modernize Tobacco Control. They emphasized that youth activism played a pivotal role in the development and passage of what Senator Keenan called “the nation-leading law.” Senator Keenan explained that the strong bill became a law because “quite simply we had an incredible group of young people standing up for their generation.”
During the awards ceremony, awards were presented to individuals and chapters of The 84 Movement for their dedication to reducing the impact of tobacco in their communities and across Massachusetts – including Everett’s chapter.
The 2020 Peer Outreach Award went to TEASA/Teens in Everett Against Substance Abuse, a project of the Cambridge Health Alliance. The Peer Outreach Award is presented to a chapter for demonstrating exemplary effort in reaching young people with The 84 Movement message.
Since 2005, TEASA has been active in doing local outreach work and for the last 6 years they have been represented on The 84’s Statewide Leadership Team. This year, TEASA grew in size to 30 active members, thanks to the passion and commitment of the group. They conducted surveys in three schools about perceptions of tobacco use, attended meetings at City Hall and worked to change city policies around where tobacco is sold to protect youth from nicotine addiction. TEASA is credited with leading by example in Everett and proving that youth voices can play a major role in improving public health.
The youth were very excited to learn that TEASA won the award. Diana Fiesta, a graduating senior of Everett High stated, “I feel like we deserve the award, but I was shocked. Everyone works hard to come up with ways to advocate around our community, even when schools were closed, and we stopped having in-person meetings. I was given the amazing opportunity to be a part of TEASA and The 84 Statewide Leadership Team where I learned so many important skills. Although I will be graduating and no longer a member, I know that this award will always be something great to look back on, not only for me but for the current and future members of TEASA as well.”
Sandra Le, another graduating senior, also shared her excitement and a similar sentiment. “I believe that this award was well-deserved and I am more than proud of TEASA for all we have done. It would definitely not have been possible without the dedication and hard-work that the members of TEASA have put in and I appreciate all of them.”
At previous Kick Butts Day events at the State House, hundreds of youth from The 84 Movement visited their legislators telling stories of tobacco industry influences that concern them and explaining their work to pass protective local policies in their communities. Following this year’s online event, The 84 Movement chapters are virtually thanking their legislators for hearing their voices, listening to their local stories over the years, and doing their part to protect youth from a lifetime of nicotine addiction.
The 84 Movement is a program of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program, developed and managed in partnership with Health Resources in Action. Created in 2007, The 84 represents the 84% of Massachusetts youth who did not smoke cigarettes (in 2017 that number was 93%).