End of the road for anti-tobacco program

Heather Latter

This is the final week for the local Youth Action Alliance to get its anti-tobacco message out to the community before the program is terminated across the province this Friday.
Youth advisor Angie Tyrvainen noted when they first received word of the termination back in May, some of the YAA’s in the province chose to close at that time.
“But we left it up to the peer leaders to decide whether they wanted to continue until the end and locally they chose to keep getting their message out as long as possible,” Tyrvainen said.
“I’m very proud of that.”
The Ministry of Health Promotion decided to axe the YAA program in favour of a new Youth Engagement Strategy, which it claims will take “a broader approach to engage greater numbers of youth who are at risk in Ontario communities.
However, the new model has not yet been released.
“There’s nothing to replace it [YAA] right away,” Tyrvainen remarked. “We’re losing a lot of potential with the youth being gone.
“It’s sad because a lot of data shows the benefits of peer-on-peer learning and teaching, and we’re losing the youth voice and the possibility to connect with youth,” she lamented.
“We have some amazing youth in the district.”
The peer leaders involved in the YAA were hired as part-time employees. This year in Rainy River District, there were two from Rainy River, two from Atikokan, and two from Fort Frances, which then increased to five.
Six peer leaders remain here, but they’ll have to move on and find new positions. They include Heidi Howells, Kelsey Dillon, Jillian Kellar, Deidre Wilson, Kyle Bayliss, and Cassie Clark.
“It’s too bad because we were really starting to see results,” Tyrvainen said, citing statistics that show a decrease in the number of youths taking up smoking.
“It has definitely been going in a positive direction,” echoed Howells, who has been involved in the YAA since February.
“We accomplished a lot in the short time I’ve been there,” she added. “People were willing to listen and were surprised by what you told them.”
“It let you have your voice be heard about the tobacco industry gimmicks,” echoed Dillon. “I was very upset when I heard this program was being cut because of all the work me, present, and past peer leaders have made.”
Some of the events the local YAA has held recently included a tobacco-free sports and recreation day at the Lions Park here last week, a booth during Mall Days in June, and a “Flavour Gone” cup art project in Sioux Lookout last month.
This past Sunday, the YAA gathered in Atikokan for its final event—a display of 37 shoes that represented the number of people who die each day from tobacco-related illnesses.
Afterwards they had a wrap-up barbecue.
“It was a great display. It turned out really well,” Howells enthused, though noting her work with the YAA was more than just a job to her.
“I was grossed out by smoking and this gave me a chance to make a difference,” she explained. “I was able to voice my opinion and get out in the community.”
“I hope the work that we have put into the community is not soon forgotten,” added Kellar.
“I’m also very thankful to have had the chance, even if it was a short one, to work with the people I worked with and in the communities we worked in.”
A portion of their work likely is to continue at least into next month when the federal government will look at passing bill C-32, the “Flavour Gone” campaign, which would protect children and youth from tobacco marketing.
The Northwest YAA started up the “Flavour Gone” campaign last July, with the Conservative government finally tabling legislation in the House of Commons on May 26.
Proposed amendments to the Tobacco Act would prohibit the addition of fruit flavours and other addictives, such as vitamins or sugar, which give a candy flavour to little cigars, cigarettes, and blunt wraps.
Meanwhile, Tyrvainen said the Northwestern Health Unit would continue its focus on tobacco control.
“I’m very proud of the youth for all their hard work,” she stressed. “We had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun, but it’s been too short.”
“It’s really rewarding to be a part of it,” added Howells, noting they’ve been so busy, it’s only now starting to sink in that the YAA no longer will be running.