SIMCOE, ON- JUNE 17, 2009- The youth tobacco prevention program run by the Health Unit has been cancelled by the Ministry of Health Promotion as of August 31, 2009. The Youth Action Alliance program was launched provincially in 2005 to support youth development, prevent children and youth from starting and becoming addicted to tobacco products and to eliminate involuntary exposure to second-hand smoke.
In Haldimand-Norfolk, the youth group is called Fresh Heir and is made up of 10 local high school students called Peer Leaders and one Youth Advisor. Fresh Heir’s most recent youth-focused events include a Face the Music concert, two movie nights, and various street marketing campaigns including creating messages in fences using cups, sidewalk chalking and a “Freeze Mob”. The group is also working this summer connecting with local sporting associations to promote the concept of tobacco-free sports.
“We are very disappointed in this funding cut.” said Jill Steen, Program Coordinator at the Health Unit. “Our local smoking rate among youth is over twice the provincial average. This program which was based on youth talking to youth is one way to address smoking in our community. It also provided a great opportunity for these teenagers to gain fantastic leadership skills and job training.”
During the last year Fresh Heir has been strategically working in conjunction with other Youth Action Alliances in central west Ontario to campaign against a ban on flavouring in tobacco. An amendment was recently introduced to the federal Tobacco Act that will prohibit the addition of flavourings and additives that appeal to children and youth (excluding menthol) in little cigars, cigarettes and blunt wraps, and prohibiting the representation of these flavourings and additives on the package, and requiring them to be packaged in quantities of at least 20. The amendment is a clear indication of the hard work and dedication the youth have put forth to this tobacco issue.
Fresh Heir, along with other Youth Action Alliances across the province, have also been actively involved in education campaigns and advocacy efforts leading to the recent legislation surrounding smoke-free vehicles carrying children and the banning of tobacco “powerwalls” behind the counter in convenience stores.
The funding cut will also affect the high school grant program that has provided a total of $5,000 yearly to area secondary schools who were implementing smoking prevention or cessation programming with their students. It is estimated that 90% of smokers start before the age of 18.
The loss of funding for the Youth Action Alliance and High School Grant programs will have an impact on the Health Unit’s ability to reach youth on tobacco control issues. Peer leaders brought creativity and an authentic youth voice to the fight to reduce tobacco use.
Tobacco industry products remain the number one cause of preventable disease and death in Ontario and cost our health care system at least 1.5 billion dollars annually.
Population Health Team
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
519-426-6170 Ext. 3238 or 905-318-6623 Ext. 3238