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Teens Show Support For Smoke-Free Future

July 26, 2017

More than 100 Minnesota teens are having their cake and eating it, too, this week. Members of Catalyst -- a new group of teens dedicated to adding youth voices to public health debates around tobacco issues -- wrap up a three-day youth leadership summit at the University of Minnesota, Friday, August 17 with a march and rally at the Capitol. After intensive training and team building, they will march to the Capitol to thank lawmakers for bringing an end to secondhand smoke in the workplace.

Beginning October 1, Minnesota's bars, restaurants and a host of other workplaces that have previously been exempt from the state's Clean Indoor Air Act, will become smoke-free; teens are excited for the future.

"This past year every dollar I earned came as a mixed blessing," says Nikki Bunnell. "My waitressing job puts me in direct contact with secondhand smoke during my weekend shifts. Even though I don't have the right to vote, I wanted our Minnesota's representatives and senators to know how thankful I am for giving me a healthier future."

Like thousands of adults in the Minnesota workplace, the burgeoning youth of Minnesota have been forced to balance the need for a job with the increased health risks associated with working in an environment filled with the dangers from secondhand smoke. According to data provided by the Center for Disease Control, nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their heart disease risk by 25-30 percent and their lung cancer risk by 20-30 percent(1).

Teen leaders from across Minnesota presented state legislators with a giant cake to show their gratitude. "At Catalyst we are about empowering youth to make a difference in the fight against big tobacco," says Andy Berndt, Project Director of Catalyst. "Our youth wanted a way to show their thanks and support for the courage and hard work that went into passing the Freedom To Breathe Act. More importantly the teens want to show their passion for the work that lies ahead."

Catalyst is a statewide youth mobilization program, which is supported by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota as part of Prevention Minnesota, Blue Cross' long-term health improvement initiative funded by tobacco settlement dollars to tackle the root causes of preventable heart disease and cancer. Catalyst is open to all high school students across the state and will focus on helping youth develop leadership, advocacy and communications skills to create change at the community level and beyond.

The celebratory march begins in Rice Park in downtown St. Paul at 11 a.m. and ends at the Capitol. Speakers at the rally include legislative authors of the bill: Senator Kathy Sheran, Representative Thomas Huntley and Representative Dan Severson.

(1) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coordinating Center for Health Promotion, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2006 [cited 2006 Sep 27]. Available from: surgeongeneral/library/secondhandsmoke/report.