For Immediate ReleaseSeptember 17, 2021
Local flavor bans and public advocacy influenced by team of teens
San Rafael, CA – When Marin County assesses its success with anti-tobacco policy – and it has a lot – it owes a standing ovation to a group of teen advocates from the Youth Advisory Council (YAC).
The latest American Lung Association Report Card shows all Marin jurisdictions receiving an overall A grade, partly because all of them with retail tobacco sales outlets have enacted partial or complete bans on flavored tobacco products. Belvedere and Ross do not have any of the retail outlets.
“Those flavor bans were driven by our youth,” said Bob Curry, the County of Marin’s Senior Department Analyst for Tobacco Education. “With the combination of an experienced Smoke-Free Marin Coalition that has been around for 30 years and the energetic, informed, and committed YAC group, we have rallied our policy makers to adopt all of these health protections for Marin residents.”
Five Marin communities were given a B grade in the ratings with regard to second-hand smoke in multiunit housing. However, Corte Madera and Larkspur both adopted policies recently and three others are planning to introduce them at coming meetings. The County of Marin, which regulates policy in unincorporated sections of the county, on September 14 adopted a policy that requires 100% of multi-unit housing to be smoke-free, with enforcement beginning in October 2022.
Jasmine Gerraty founded and coordinates the YAC and is a certified public health professional who works closely with Curry and the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Starting three years ago with just four student advocates, the program has grown to 20 teens in 2020 working as volunteers, single-semester interns or yearlong interns despite the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their motto is “Not About Us Without Us.”
“Many adults make decisions about youth without the input from us students, which is why we need to be part of the decision-making process and have a seat at the table,” said Emily Gallegos, a YAC member from Redwood High School.
Sayra Soriano, in her second year co-supporting Gerraty with the YAC program, said it’s a joy to watch teens blossom and grow confident when sharing their expertise as high school students in this current environment.
“They want to create an impact in the community, engage in the local policy, and get excited about positive change,” Soriano said. “Some of them have never done anything like this before, such as speaking with the community and speaking at city council meetings about tobacco policies. As youth in the community, we encourage them to share their experiences because policy makers rarely hear from the youth and young adult population.”
Annika Danne, another YAC member from Redwood High, said that in her experience, “Many council members are more focused and listening when we speak because it is rare for young people to be advocating for themselves and their community as late as 10 p.m. on a weeknight.”
Herminia Acosta, a recent graduate of Madrone Continuation High School and YAC intern, added, “One of my favorite projects that I have been a part of is speaking at a Sausalito City Council meeting on the impact that cannabis business licenses and regulations have on youth.”
The YAC generally has three to five action teams per year. Gerraty said several of them are focusing on peer-to-peer education at community and educational events, the positive use of social media for tobacco cessation messaging, capacity building efforts, and supporting peers who may be struggling or know someone struggling with substance use.
Each public high school in Marin has materials in its college and career center about the YAC. Gerraty said she would welcome any interested teens from public or private high schools, and eighth-graders would not be turned away. Even a few alumni who have gone off to college have returned to volunteer for the YAC.
“Throughout my experience as a YAC member, I have started to consider pursuing public health as a future career,” said Sophia Pillieri, a senior at Archie Williams High School. “Public health is imperative to the health and well-being of our communities and is something that everyone should be a part of.”
“YAC creates a safe environment for young people to really discuss the pervasive substance use culture in Marin and devise a plan to change that culture,” added Kylie Flanagan, YAC member at San Rafael High School.
Kathy Koblick, HHS’ Public Health Division Director, said the youth who are engaged in the work have been instrumental in the passing of strong tobacco policy in Marin.
“When these youth speak, policy makers really listen,” she said. “It is such an important experience for these youth – to learn about public health policy process and gain skill at advocating for what is important to them. We are so grateful for their time and their genuine interest and skill in creating a healthy community.”
To learn more about the YAC, check out @MarinYAC on Instagram or visit NicoTeenFree.org. Watch the Youth Advisory Council’s video “Youth and Nicotine Addiction,” which includes testimonials and perspectives from teens in Marin County who have experienced the addiction. It also shares cessation resources for those looking to quit smoking and/or vaping.
Bob CurryResource Development CoordinatorHealth and Human Services
10 N. San Pedro RoadSuite #1010San Rafael, CA 94903(415) 473-3020Email: Bob CurryMarin HHS website