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Research Program Feature

Jennifer Steele - Texas School Safety Center

Texas State Center Empowers Youth Voice For Tobacco Prevention


"The SAY WHAT! program is built on a foundation of youth leadership and engagement with an emphasis on fostering youth-adult partnerships.”

Jesus Jimenez
2019-2020 Texas Teen Ambassadors at the Texas Capitol

 

The tobacco industry has a long history of targeting teens in order to attract future customers. Without new recruits to use their products, these companies would not stay in business. Unfortunately, when used as intended, tobacco products cause death. Smoking rates among high school teens in the late 1990’s reached well over 30%. Due to this alarming trend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all states take a comprehensive approach to address this problem.

Local Say What! member group promoting a tobacco-free lifestyle on Texas Tobacco-Free Kids Day (March 2019)
Local Say What! member group promoting a tobacco-free
lifestyle on Texas Tobacco-Free Kids Day (March 2019)

During this same time, Texas sued the tobacco industry and won a settlement of $17.5 billion to be paid out over 25 years for the death and disease the companies had caused in our state. In 2000, at the request of the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Texas School Safety Center was called upon to develop and implement the Texas Tobacco Youth Prevention Initiative. Based on research in the field of youth engagement and youth leadership, the TxSSC began forming the initial foundation for a statewide coalition of youth and their supportive adult leaders, who would in turn help change the landscape of youth tobacco use in Texas. In 2010, this coalition was branded “SAY WHAT!” or Students, Adults, and Youth Working Hard Against Tobacco!

Research has shown that youth who are engaged in their communities are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, drop out of high school, and be involved in criminal behavior. The SAY WHAT! program is built on a foundation of youth leadership and engagement with an emphasis on fostering youth-adult partnerships. Research has also shown that peer-to-peer education is an effective strategy for promoting healthy lifestyles. Putting this research into action, SAY WHAT! formed a youth advisory board known as the Texas Teen Ambassadors. These youth leaders provide guidance and direction on all program components and serve as the state’s youth voice for tobacco prevention.

Say What! events provide opportunities to have fun living tobacco, nicotine, and vape-free, make new friends, and learn the facts about vaping and tobacco
Say What! events provide opportunities to
have fun living tobacco, nicotine, and vape-free;
make new friends; and learn the facts about vaping and tobacco.

In its role as the state’s youth tobacco prevention coalition, SAY WHAT! connects middle and high school-aged youth groups across the state who are interested in helping to create a tobacco and nicotine-free Texas. SAY WHAT! provides a variety of training opportunities, resources, and materials to support local youth-led efforts in tobacco prevention and promotion of healthy lifestyles. Over the past decade, SAY WHAT! youth have helped to shape local and state tobacco policies, reduce youth tobacco use, and educate over 1,000,000 Texans.

In an effort to assist youth, schools, and communities in addressing the current vaping epidemic, SAY WHAT! will be hosting five Regional Action Summits in the spring of 2020. These trainings will educate youth on the harmful effects of e-cigarettes and vaping and will equip them with the tools necessary to engage their peers in spreading tobacco and nicotine prevention messages in order to create the first tobacco-free generation.

In addition to Regional Action Summits, SAY WHAT! provides a variety of tangible and downloadable resources including presentations, hand-outs, and mini-grant kits. To learn more, visit the SAY WHAT! Resources Page.

To learn more about the history of tobacco prevention and youth engagement in Texas, please view the SAY WHAT! Online Training Modules or feel free to reach out directly to Jennifer Steele, Associate Director, or Kathleen Bates, Program Manager, to learn more about the SAY WHAT! Program.

2019 San Marcos Say What! Action Summit attendees participating in street activism and cigarette butt clean-up activities

2019 San Marcos Say What! Action Summit attendees participating in street activism and cigarette butt clean-up activities

Say What! Teen Ambassador teaching her peers about the dangers of tobacco, nicotine, and vaping

Say What! Teen Ambassador teaching her peers about the dangers of tobacco, nicotine, and vaping