Some of Missouri’s strongest anti-tobacco advocates just happen to be under 18 years old. More than one hundred students from across the state arrived in Jefferson City Thursday for an anti-tobacco advocacy and education event at the capitol organized by the Tobacco Free Missouri Youth Advocacy Board. The students delivered over two thousand signatures of support along with pinwheels to represent their desire for clean air to House of Representatives Majority Leader John Diehl. Currently, Jefferson City and most of the capitol building are smoke-free, but legislators are allowed to continue smoking in their offices.
“They absolutely have the right to smoke and we’re not telling anyone they don’t,” says Alex Higginbotham, age 17. “What we’re telling them is asking them not to smoke around us, because we have the right to breathe clean air. So they can still smoke in their home but we’re asking them in public not to affect us.”
The students were also there to speak to their representatives against House Bill 1345, which would put e-cigarettes in a category separate from traditional cigarettes, making them exempt from taxes and regulations associated with tobacco products.
Youth Advocacy Board Member Kate Hanson, age 17, says that the point of Capitol Day is to get teens comfortable with the idea of speaking out against tobacco use. “What our main goal as a youth advisory board is really to empower youth to speak out in their communities and empower youth also to not use tobacco,” she says.
The Tobacco Free Missouri Youth Advisory Board was formed as a result of last year’s Capital Day event. Members of the board were named Youth Advocates of the Year in 2013 by the national group Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. According to the CDC, Missouri has one of the highest adult smoking rates in the nation.
“We’re not always going to win, there’s always going to be opposition” says 16-yr-old Rebecca Bade. “But fighting the opposition and really just trying to get your ideas out there is what’s really important.”