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Willow Peterson – Junior at Montana State University Billings

Tobacco prevention and education work has been a major focus point in my life for seven years. In 8th grade, I joined my local tobacco prevention club. As I started high school, my classmates began to use tobacco products. Some of my close family members and friends got addicted to nicotine at a very young age. Seeing them cough until vomiting, having trouble breathing, and using any means to feed their addiction had a powerful impact on me. It hurt me to see them abuse an addictive product that would negatively impact their physical and mental health. As a result, I became a passionate health advocate.

I have had the great honor of working with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. As a sophomore in high school, I was chosen to represent Montana in their annual Youth Advocacy Symposium. I was flown out to Washington D.C. to work with other passionate youth from around the country. This program consists of a week of in-depth training from professionals and opportunities to talk to legislators at the federal level. I met with Senator Jon Tester to discuss how flavored tobacco is negatively impacting the lives of teens and young adults in Montana. I was asked to return in 2017 and 2018. This year, I joined as a Young Adult Ambassador. With help from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, I had the amazing opportunity to talk about my advocacy work in an interview with our local news station.

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Currently, I am continuing my tobacco prevention advocacy through the peer-led health education organization, HEROES, at MSU Billings. We educate about health and wellness topics that impact students every year such as stress, sleep, mental health, healthy relationships, drug, tobacco, and alcohol use, and more. This academic year is my second year as the president of the club.

With the support of the American Heart Association, I recently gave testimony at a public hearing held by the Department of Public Health and Human Services regarding a proposed rule to restrict the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in the state of Montana. In addition to this, I wrote a letter to the editor which was published in the Billings Gazette. In my letter I encouraged Montanans to show their support for the proposed rule to protect our Montana youth from getting hooked on nicotine.

However, my mission to protect our youth is not over. 30% of Montana teens are using e-cigarettes. Flavors are the primary reason most teens try tobacco and vape products for the first time. If flavors were restricted, fewer kids would be smoking and vaping in junior high, high school, and college. This would result in fewer lifelong smokers and fewer friends and family helplessly watching their loved one’s health deteriorate. The responsibility is on us to educate and advocate our communities about the harmful effects of tobacco.

 

 

 

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