[From 500ways.org] Young people promote health

[From 500ways.org] Young people promote health

Volunteer Service Abroad NZ (VSA) volunteer Louise Thornley is working as Tobacco Control Policy Adviser with the Tokelau Department of Health. She writes about the power young people have to influence their families’ health.

To kick off our consultation for the tobacco control policy project, we met with school children in Nukunonu. I’d anticipated a group of 10 or so, but the teachers decided all of Years 5-10 should attend – about 50 kids!

Alapati (Pita) Tavite, my co-worker, gave a presentation on smoking rates in Tokelau and the Pacific region. When he said that Tokelau was among the highest-smoking countries in the Pacific, with three-quarters of children exposed to secondhand smoke, I heard gasps of surprise.

After Pita, I spoke about the health effects of tobacco, the role of the tobacco industry, and solutions underway in the Pacific. Then we divided the children into groups and asked them questions.

Students said tobacco was “a waste of money” and harmful to health. They said Nukunonu should do more to address the tobacco problem because “more children are smoking” and “a lot of people are dying of smoking.”

The students’ ideas for action included: “The price should go up because it is so cheap for now”, “no smoking in public places” and “decrease the smokes that are coming to Tokelau.” These ideas are consistent with what the evidence on effective tobacco control measures tells us.

Lastly, the youth agreed with the idea of a no smoking rule for the school and its grounds. One reason was: “because it’s a bad example for kids” when teachers or parents smoke at school.

A week later, I was interviewing a woman for the project. She told me her Year 6 nephew had come home and said to her whole family, “This white lady came to school and said smoking kills people and makes you ugly.” (I didn’t really say smoking makes people ugly, but did show photos of skin damage!)

This boy then asked his relatives to quit smoking because he wants them to be healthy. The woman said her dad, a heavy smoker, was a little defensive, but her nephew’s concern prompted her to think more about her own smoking. The family had already agreed to have a smoke-free home – those who smoke do so outside.

Children and youth are among our project’s biggest supporters – many want tobacco-free environments and some are critical of smoking. There are young smokers here, for sure, but their younger siblings aren’t so impressed.

This week I interviewed an 84-year-old lifelong non-smoker, Paulina. I needed an interpreter as Pita had left to attend meetings in Samoa. A teenager, Luhia, volunteered. It was the school holidays, but I checked with her mum anyway, as I would usually recruit adult interpreters. But her mum was supportive and Luhia already had an interest in our project – she’d previously delivered anti-tobacco speeches at school.

It was a privilege to sit with these two Tokelauan women, hearing Paulina’s dreams for a healthier, tobacco-free future. And it’s today’s young people, like Luhia, who could support the elders to lead this journey.Volunteer Service Abroad NZ (VSA) volunteer Louise Thornley is working as Tobacco Control Policy Adviser with the Tokelau Department of Health. She writes about the power young people have to influence their families’ health.

To kick off our consultation for the tobacco control policy project, we met with school children in Nukunonu. I’d anticipated a group of 10 or so, but the teachers decided all of Years 5-10 should attend – about 50 kids!

Alapati (Pita) Tavite, my co-worker, gave a presentation on smoking rates in Tokelau and the Pacific region. When he said that Tokelau was among the highest-smoking countries in the Pacific, with three-quarters of children exposed to secondhand smoke, I heard gasps of surprise.

After Pita, I spoke about the health effects of tobacco, the role of the tobacco industry, and solutions underway in the Pacific. Then we divided the children into groups and asked them questions.

Students said tobacco was “a waste of money” and harmful to health. They said Nukunonu should do more to address the tobacco problem because “more children are smoking” and “a lot of people are dying of smoking.”

The students’ ideas for action included: “The price should go up because it is so cheap for now”, “no smoking in public places” and “decrease the smokes that are coming to Tokelau.” These ideas are consistent with what the evidence on effective tobacco control measures tells us.

Lastly, the youth agreed with the idea of a no smoking rule for the school and its grounds. One reason was: “because it’s a bad example for kids” when teachers or parents smoke at school.

A week later, I was interviewing a woman for the project. She told me her Year 6 nephew had come home and said to her whole family, “This white lady came to school and said smoking kills people and makes you ugly.” (I didn’t really say smoking makes people ugly, but did show photos of skin damage!)

This boy then asked his relatives to quit smoking because he wants them to be healthy. The woman said her dad, a heavy smoker, was a little defensive, but her nephew’s concern prompted her to think more about her own smoking. The family had already agreed to have a smoke-free home – those who smoke do so outside.

Children and youth are among our project’s biggest supporters – many want tobacco-free environments and some are critical of smoking. There are young smokers here, for sure, but their younger siblings aren’t so impressed.

This week I interviewed an 84-year-old lifelong non-smoker, Paulina. I needed an interpreter as Pita had left to attend meetings in Samoa. A teenager, Luhia, volunteered. It was the school holidays, but I checked with her mum anyway, as I would usually recruit adult interpreters. But her mum was supportive and Luhia already had an interest in our project – she’d previously delivered anti-tobacco speeches at school.

It was a privilege to sit with these two Tokelauan women, hearing Paulina’s dreams for a healthier, tobacco-free future. And it’s today’s young people, like Luhia, who could support the elders to lead this journey.