Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

June 1, 2012

War on tobacco

TAHLEQUAH — Members of over 30 school SWAT teams came together earlier this week at the Salvation Army’s Heart O’ the Hills Camp for the fifth annual Students Working Against Tobacco Advocacy Leadership Training.

“I just want Tahlequah and Cherokee County to understand there’s an awesome program called SWAT, and that there’s a leadership training camp that’s held here at the Heart O’ the Hills,” said Cherokee County SWAT Coordinator Sarah Grimes-Troutt. “This way people can understand what SWAT is and learn more about it and maybe let their children participate and support our program. We’ve done a lot for Tahlequah with the totally-tobacco free parks, the clean-air ordinances and the youth-access ordinances.”

According to its website, SWAT is an Oklahoma youth movement designed to expose the “lies and deceptive practices” used by the tobacco industry. SWAT teams at school sites around the state advocate for their local communities by promoting the need for smoke-free environments in public places and restricted youth access to all tobacco products.

“What we’re trying to do is build leadership and advocacy,” said Cherokee Nation Healthy Nation Tobacco Control representative Lu McCraw. “It’s all about tobacco prevention policies. We’re working with schools to get them to become 24/7 tobacco-free sites, and we’ve done really well in Cherokee County. We only have two more schools to go.”

The three-day SWAT camp allowed teams to meet, share ideas and learn new ways to help make their daily living environments tobacco-free.

“I think the camp is really awesome because it takes students who are working against tobacco and it trains them to be very effective leaders and powerful speakers,” said Sequoyah and Muskogee County Coordinator Tricia Wall. “It removes fears of confronting people who are using tobacco and educating them on how the tobacco industry is abusing and using them to make their money. I think the camp’s just a positive and fun thing, and they walk away with more skills than what they came with.”

Tahlequah SWAT advocate Jessica Davis joined the movement her freshman year of high school and is still using skills learned at the camp.

“I’ve been a part of SWAT since 2006,” she said. “I got really involved my freshman year when I spoke nationally for SWAT. SWAT is a great door-opener for a lot of kids. I’ve always been kind of outgoing and bubbly, but going to these camps really taught me how to present myself to an audience and get myself out of my comfort zone, even though I’m a bubbly person, and control my craziness.”

Davis said growing up as the child of a smoker helped her to discern what it actually means to feel good.

“In my personal opinion, people should look at the way they feel [if they need a reason to stop using tobacco],” she said. “I’m the child of a smoker and have dealt with second-hand smoke for 18 years of my life. I moved out and went to college, and granted, I moved into a dorm of mold and craziness, but I just felt healthier.”

After three months living out of her mom’s house, she felt healthier.

“I don’t mean to bash my mom in any way,” Davis said. “It’s your decision to smoke, and your decision to do that to your body, but you just feel a whole lot better, if you quit that habit. My mom’s been really supportive [of my involvement with SWAT]. She’s always taught us to learn from her mistakes.”

Oklahoma Union freshman SWAT member Chye Matlock shared Davis’ experience with a parent who uses tobacco.

“My mom just quit smoking like five years ago, and she’s more athletic, she feels better, and she’s not coughing all the time,” she said. “Tobacco does wear down your body. [With] my being around people who smoke, I can see it, and by her quitting smoking, she’s a lot better than she used to be.”

The Sequoyah and Muskogee County SWAT Coordinator believes the tobacco-free movement is reaching the target audience.

“I do think students are more aware of the tobacco industry, and how they are targeting them to replace one of the 1,200 who are dying every day in the United States,” Wall said. “I think that because of that awareness, even though we might have to wait awhile for these young people to become voters, they’ll be more likely to get the local rights and plans implemented so our leaders can make our towns and public places more safe. I know the state reports are saying that smoking by youth is down over the last five or 10 years. It’s dropped, so I think that supports the fact that they’re becoming more aware.”

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