Drug abuse has become a very serious issue among teenagers in America today. The National Drug Intelligence Center (2004) reports more than 7.5 million young people ranging from 12-17 years of age have experimented with drugs at least once. Whether it is for an escape from reality or a social high, the individual quickly gets hooked and an addiction to the drug is formed. Our young people are vulnerable and it is for this reason that our policing agencies are investing their time and officers educating students on drug prevention and how to respond to peer pressure. One of the most addicting drugs that teens have access to is tobacco. This paper will focus on SWAT (Students Working Against Tobacco), a program that was designed by students to help students work against tobacco and the fallacies of the tobacco industry.
Florida is fighting back against tobacco companies by empowering students with the knowledge and truth behind the lies and manipulation that is sold by Big Tobacco. Since the 1997 Florida state victory costing the tobacco industry billions of dollars in medical costs from Medicaid patients and the revamping of ads that promoted underage smoking; the state has been on a mission to reduce teen smoking and tobacco use. Not only have government officials felt moved to make a change, but young people are also taking a stand. In 1998, just 8 months after Florida called victory in the lawsuit against tobacco companies, nearly 600 students united together to form a group called SWAT. This group was to be run by students for students with the mission “to educate, unite, and empower the diverse segments of youth in Florida to revolt against the manipulation and targeting by Big Tobacco, specifically of youth, through the use of the truth message. “(Florida Swat, 2015) Students helping students through education, media, marketing, involvement, enforcement, evaluation, and delivering truth is how SWAT is arming our young people. The sole purpose of this drug prevention group is to get teens involved in making a real change in their home state. Students have the ability to become advocates and work with law makers in Florida after receiving the real life training and attending workshops. SWAT is more than just hanging out in a classroom talking about the latest cigarette commercial or chewing tobacco display at the grocery store. Students that join this drug prevention group are referred to as SWAT members. The SWAT members are dedicated to living a tobacco free life and revealing the secrets behind advertising efforts to hook teens into an early tobacco addiction. The SWAT team also promotes the deadly facts about smoking. Working on a local level and statewide this team of young people is determined to make a difference for generations to come.
SWAT’s main focus is on marketing and manipulation of the tobacco industry, it does not deal with the dangers or harmful effects this addicting drug plays on our youth. (Florida SWAT, 2015) Students are encouraged to join this group regardless of their culture and personal background. SWAT has become a staple program for students that have fallen victim to the lies of advertising and have formed the bad habit of smoking. Young people are rising above the lies and creating advocacy to help deliver SWAT’s main message, “Their brand is lies. Our brand is truth.” (SWAT, 2014) By using positive peer pressure and getting teens involved to make a real change in their community the success stories are tripling. Ten other states have followed Florida’s fight against tobacco companies by joining the revolution and initiating programs that empower students to fight back against Big Tobacco. Teens across the country are showing their worth and taking a stand every year on March 16th, our National Kick Butts Day. This day is set aside to help students find value in themselves while delivering a message that they are not a replacement.
Through the education of Florida SWAT, 32 city ordinances and 27 county ordinances have been adopted that place tobacco products behind the retail counter and out of the reach of kids. This is a success that students fought hard for in the Bay area after a tobacco company filed lawsuit against the movement. Since 1998 thousands of students and many national organizations, such as Florida Health and The World Health Organization have joined Florida SWAT in creating publications and guides for international distribution. Spreading the truth throughout the country is what drives these young people. With successes to limiting second hand smoke and the passing of Amendment 6 to limit smoking in public places it would seem that SWAT is on the right path to promote a tobacco free life. Working hand in hand with lawmakers SWAT members have become an essential part of the political process, educating decision makers on the necessity of tobacco prevention and dollars saved. The Florida SWAT group (2014) reports a 57% decline in the number of middle school students that smoke and a 37% decline in high school students. There has also been a great decrease in the number of daily smokers, as many as 63% of middle school students have cut back on the number of cigarettes smoked in a single day. Not only has there been a decrease in teen smoking, but this program celebrates with a success in the number of students that have committed to never smoke. 56% of middle school and 43% of high school youth have made the commitment to never smoke, even if a best friend offers them a joint. This is an increase of 73% since the birth of the program in 1998. This small victory against the effects of advertising by Big Tobacco is a huge success and will lead to more funding and education in schools across America.
Most of the funding for this group comes from internal fundraising by the students. There are no grants set aside and no major sponsorship. SWAT faces budget cuts that threaten students from participating in statewide tours that allow them to spread the awareness and truth on tobacco companies. With great effort students and staff members continue to pull together managing to find ways to raise the much needed funds and to get the word out, reaching thousands of youth from every county in the state of Florida.
Teens are uniting across the state and throughout America with great force to take down tobacco companies. They are focusing on eliminating promotional efforts that target teens. By meeting goals to promote public policies to reduce tobacco use, expose the efforts of the tobacco industry that mislead children, and strengthen control efforts by providing support to teens SWAT will continue to be successful in making tobacco free schools and social behaviors of students. The war against tobacco will be won as our future generation is empowered with the truth to fight back. Exposing the lies and manipulation of Big Tobacco drives these students. Truth is knowledge and knowledge is power, may this be a warning to the tobacco industry.
SWAT. (2014, November 18). Retrieved May 5, 2015, from http://swatflorida.com/
Students Working Against Tobacco. (2015, April 15). Retrieved May 5, 2015, from http://www.gen-swat.com/
Teens and Drugs Fast Facts. (2004, November 1). Retrieved May 5, 2015, from http://www.justice.gov/archive/ndic/pubs11/12430/