On October 28th, 2022, I had the great honor of representing the American Heart Association as an invited speaker for the “Yes on 31” press conference in Oakland, California.
This November, general election ballots posed an important question to California voters- should we, as a state, ban the sale of flavored tobacco products? The “Yes on 31” campaign, bolstered by such large organizations as the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and Kaiser Foundation Plan, Inc. and the Hospitals, sought to connect with California voters to highlight the detrimental effects of candy-flavored tobacco sales on vulnerable youth. As the “Yes on Prop 31” campaign volunteers took a bus tour through major California cities, my story coincided with theirs in Oakland.
I have had the pleasure of working with the American Heart Association since early 2020, when the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic motivated me to become a health advocate for the AHA’s “You’re the Cure” grassroots advocacy platform. Inspired by this powerful virtual network, I founded “Heart at Berkeley”, the country’s first AHA-affiliated virtual health policy/advocacy-focused student organization, during my senior year at UC Berkeley.
While building “Heart at Berkeley”, I was mentored by AHA Grassroots Advocacy Manager Josh Brown, who has remained a steadfast source of encouragement and positivity throughout my healthcare advocacy work with the AHA. It was Josh who recently connected me to an AHA spokesperson training event for future health policy media events, wherein I practiced balancing informative oration with authentic storytelling. So, after volunteering virtually for over two years, I was excited to engage with an in-person opportunity for healthcare advocacy this October.
At the “Yes on 31” press conference, I had the opportunity to meet strong, inspiring people with compelling personal and professional stories. After being approached to record a short, on-the-spot interview that day, I heard about the importance of affirming Proposition 31 from the perspectives of physician-leaders, like Dr. Renee Fogelberg, policymakers, like State Senator Nancy Skinner, as well as passionate community members, who were speaking up for tobacco regulation on behalf of their children and grandchildren. I also met many incredible AHA staff members, some of whom I had corresponded with virtually while building my student organization. I was in the company of some amazing individuals- and as I heard their speeches, their passion for Proposition 31 fueled my own.
When it was my turn to take the podium, I described the disproportionate influence of flavored tobacco sales in perpetuating youth tobacco addiction, especially among students of color, like myself. As an advisory board member for the AHA’s Tobacco Endgame initiative, I have spent the last year promoting youth and adolescent health through tobacco policy regulation. As a result of this work, I have observed how a conglomerate of targeted marketing campaigns by the tobacco industry, strategic proximity of tobacco shops to public schools, and the sheer power of peer/media influence on susceptible adolescents have functioned to exacerbate youth tobacco addiction. Given that 2+ million middle school and high school students use e-cigarettes, and over 80% of these students currently use flavored e-cigarettes in America, proposition 31 proved crucial to mitigating epidemic levels of youth tobacco users.
Simultaneously, my years of high school speech and debate taught me the vital importance of acknowledging potential contentions from the public. During my speech, I made it a point to clarify that our goal at “Yes on 31” was not to question an individual’s choice, nor patronize an individual’s decision, to use tobacco. Rather, we simply wanted to raise public awareness regarding the undue detriment of flavored tobacco to our future generation.
Today, after hearing that California proposition 31 successfully remains intact, my first in-person advocacy experience holds even greater significance for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to come together with members of my community and speak up on health policy reforms, on behalf of those who cannot speak up for themselves. As I move forward in my journey to medical school, the voices of my community deeply enrich my understanding of what it means to be a strong physician-advocate. I am excited to continue working with the American Heart Association and advocating for my community’s health!