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Tobacco-Free Alaska > Community Spotlight > April 2015

ATCA Youth Leaders

Taking on Tobacco 

The Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA) Youth Leaders are not your average teenagers. They are showing that anti-tobacco advocacy can start at any age. In February, students involved in the Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance Youth Leaders Program channeled their passion for tobacco prevention during leadership training sessions in Juneau. Christian Escalante, Amelia Napper, and Mackenzie Lindeman are among those exceptionally dedicated students.

ATCA Youth Leaders in Juneau
ATCA Youth Leaders gather at Marine Park in downtown Juneau.

Teams Learn Leaderships Skills in Juneau 

Christian Escalante - ATCA Youth Leader
Christian Escalante

Christian, 18, has been an ATCA Youth Leader since her freshman year at Unalaska High School. She is now a college-bound senior who has traveled many times to communities across the state educating others on the dangers of tobacco. Christian said her passion for tobacco prevention comes from the fact that her father has been a smoker since before she was born. “I understand that in the future he’s going to have a lot more health complications and I really want him to be around for a long time and meet his grandkids and great-grandkids,” said Christian, “So there are family members in my life who smoke and my love for them is the main reason that I am continuing to fight against it.”

Amelia Napper - ATCA Youth Leader
Amelia Napper

In addition to helping those close to her, Christian was the catalyst behind getting Amelia Napper, her friend and fellow Unalaska High School student, involved with ATCA. Amelia, 17, is a junior and this is her first year as an ATCA Youth Leader. Part of her motivation for preventing tobacco use comes from her older brother, who started regularly smoking cigarettes when he left home for the Marines. Amelia described seeing her brother smoking cigarettes as a heartbreaking experience. He eventually quit smoking cigarettes before Amelia became an ATCA Youth Leader. However, instead of ditching the habit all together, he traded using traditional cigarettes for e-cigarettes. Amelia said the information she learned through ATCA helped her realize that there are health risks with using e-cigarettes as well. “They think it’s a healthy alternative and they’re being safer, but they don’t realize it’s not, because very few people know what’s actually in the liquid,” said Amelia.

Clearing the haze surrounding what is actually in the liquid used in e-cigarettes, vape pens, and e-hookahs was one of the main efforts surrounding the ATCA Youth Leader’s recent trip to the state’s capital. During the leadership training the Youth Leaders learned how to better convey their messages of tobacco prevention through effective storytelling. However, according to Christian and Mackenzie, the main event during their visit to Juneau was one the students planned themselves. They organized an event in Marine Park to call attention to the dangers of e-cigarettes. The Youth Leaders designed posters to get the attention of people driving or walking nearby. Creating an even stronger visual impact, they wrote the various ingredients in e-cigarette aerosol on balloons to represent a vape cloud. “I mean, it was really eye-opening because people don’t realize that it has stuff like formaldehyde and a bunch of deadly chemicals and it was a great visual display to see all this information,” said Amelia. They even remixed popular songs like “Uptown Funk” to correspond with the message that e-cigarettes are not safe. “ATCA Youth Leaders really does touch a lot of students and inspires them to do things outside of high school and just continue the momentum of tobacco prevention,” said Christian. The message of tobacco prevention, especially when it comes to e-cigarettes, is one that Mackenzie, 16, brought back from Juneau to her community in Soldotna.

Mackenzie Lindeman - ATCA Youth Leader
Mackenzie Lindeman

During a recent basketball tournament, she along with her peers from Teens Against Tobacco Use organized an event very similar to the one the ATCA Youth Leaders created in Juneau. The goal was to show that e-cigarettes are not safe and can lead to nicotine dependency. Mackenzie, who is a sophomore at Kenai High School, said she has witnessed first-hand the slippery slope of e-cigarette use. She said e-cigarettes have been a gateway to tobacco use for her cousin. “It’s just really hard to see because I know how much it’s damaging him and hurting him, and how it’s taking a toll on his family as well,” said Mackenzie. Over the next two years remaining in her high school career, Mackenzie plans to continue teaching middle school students and organizing events in her community to show that youth do have a voice when it come to preventing tobacco and e-cigarette use. Mackenzie said that she believes everyone can make a difference. “Just telling them that you care without hurting people. Sharing with people that we love the smoker but we don’t love the smoke,” said Mackenzie. It is that idea of compassion and education that continues to inspire ATCA Youth Leaders in the effort toward a completely tobacco-free Alaska.