Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT), Florida’s youth-led statewide organization, is one of six individuals and groups to be honored with a 2019 World No Tobacco Day award for their Not A Lab Rat campaign.

In 2018, SWAT launched the Not A Lab Rat campaign in response to the epidemic-level spike in youth e-cigarette use around the country and in Florida. The statewide initiative seeks to correct misconceptions about the health consequences related to the use of e-cigarettes and urges Florida youth to declare that they will not be test subjects in the vaping industry’s long-term experiment.

Each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) awards winners to recognize outstanding contributions to the advancement of the policies and measures contained in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The WHO celebrates World No Tobacco Day each year on May 31 to raise awareness of the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure.

Osceola High School rising Senior, Allyssa Williams, Statewide YAB member (Region 3) helped create the “Not A Lab Rat” Campaign along with her YAB peers. When told about the award, this is what Allyssa had to say “That’s amazing! It is wonderful that our campaign has been recognized. I am honored to be a part of the Youth Advocacy Board for the past few years. This YAB term however, it was a pleasure to expand the “Not A Lab Rat” Campaign by setting an official day of awareness,making it a new tobacco observance day and to have all counties all over Florida start to implement the new campaign into their schools and communities to bring awareness to the epidemic rise in e-cigarette use among youth, encourage youth to stand up against Big Tobacco and the e-cigarette industry, and to push for change within their communities. It is a great feeling when we see all of our hard work come to fruition.”

For decades, SWAT has worked diligently to mobilize, educate, and equip Florida youth in revolting against and de-glamorizing the tobacco industry. SWAT coordinates its efforts through a Youth Advocacy Board (YAB), a 16-member board that consists of SWAT members elected by their peers. The youth leaders elected to the YAB develop statewide initiatives to support prevention efforts and provide web-based and face-to-face training to their peers in support of local and statewide advocacy work.

In Osceola County, local SWAT members promoted the Not A Lab Rat campaign by celebrating a day to bring awareness to e-cigarette use among youth (especially Juuls), encourage youth to stand up against Big Tobacco and the e-cigarette industry and to push for change within their communities. The SWAT youth went into classrooms and educate students and teachers, made laminated educational posters that were hung all around campus, as well as informational handouts that educated on Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) such as e-cigarettes and Juuls. There was a petition to ban all flavored tobacco from Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids that the SWAT youth had all students and staff sign. PSA’s were on the announcements throughout the day to inform students/staff on the myths and facts on ENDS. The SWAT youth had a table display set up with models, educational information and interactive games for students/staff that educated them on the dangers of tobacco, ENDS, second/third-hand smoke, and smokeless tobacco. There were photo ops with props for students to take their pics and post to social media. The SWAT youth also had ‘Not A Lab Rat’ postcards for students to write on declaring their resistance. Each student took a photo with their Not A Lab Rat postcard and posted it on social media to bring awareness!

Congratulations, Allyssa Williams and the local SWAT members. You are all truly deserving of a big thank you for educating the youth on the dangers of smoking and vaping, and for encouraging people to stand up against the Big Tobacco and e-cigarette industry.  Just Say No!