Jaimee Hanna is 20 years old and recently graduated from college in the Pacific Northwest. She is Straight Up’s summer intern and is blogging regularly about her experiences with us.
The opportunities that have been provided for me in my time as an intern for Straight Up have been absolutely incredible. I’ve been able to experience and learn so many things in such a short amount of time and for that I am so thankful. Through attending various coalition and task force meetings I have really gotten to see first-hand the problems our society feels are important to address and mend. The efforts are incredible and I love to see how passionate people are about the health and well-being of our communities. The Saving Lives Camarillo Coalition, the Camarillo Youth Task force, and the Prevention Committee are examples of group meetings I’ve greatly enjoyed attending as well as networking with people who are just as passionate about the community as I am.
Throughout my educational career as well as my short time interning for Straight Up I have always thought that health promotion and education was the career path for me. Management and policy just didn’t seem fitting to me so I completely disregarded the possibilities. Last week I attended a meeting with a group of people who have their sights set on passing a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance in the city of Ventura. The meeting attendees represented various groups and organizations that include Ventura County Public Health, the American Lung Association, Friday Night Live, a local youth group, and my organization of course, Straight Up. The goal of the meeting was to gather our arguments for the passing of the ordinance to present to the mayor, Cheryl Heitmann.
I was assigned the task of discussing the health impacts of tobacco as well as the need for a consistent anti-tobacco message for our youth. As for health impacts, I mentioned the prevention game show that I have helped host at the various high schools around the county that educates students about tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. I highlighted the fact that the students are both surprised and disgusted to learn that the smoke that is emitted from cigarettes has twice the amount of nicotine, tar, and other carcinogens and that the students had expressed that they were angry that smokers are willing to risk the health of the community for their own purposes. I wanted to stress that there is no filter on our end and our health is compromised due to the choices of others.
As for consistency in the message we are sending our youth, I discussed the fact that children and young adults are taught about the dangers and health risks of smoking tobacco products in their schools. However, they leave their campuses and live in a society where smoking is often accepted and publicly visible. There is no consistency. I mentioned a recent Ventura public opinion survey in which a large majority of respondents agreed that youth are more likely to smoke when they see others smoking around them. I argued that Ventura needs an ordinance that mirrors what the kids are taught in school; that smoking is harmful for the health of oneself as well as that of others. Through some research I discovered that Fillmore, for example, is a city of no smoking restrictions as well as having the greatest prevalence of high-school aged smokers in the county and that the city of Ventura is right behind them. Camarillo, Ojai, and Thousand Oaks, however, have lower incidences of smoking among youth that may correlate with the smoking restrictions in place. I told Heitmann that a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance would provide youth with consistency in the messages that they receive. The lessons they learn in school should be mirrored and supported by the societies in which they live.
Heitmann is an incredible Mayor as she is very responsive to the community and is very open to communicating about what she is doing as well as listening to the members of the community and addressing their needs. It was admirable that she was willing to take time out of her busy schedule to meet with us and hear our argument supporting a smoke-free ordinance. She was very responsive and engaged in our conversation and it was nice to feel that she valued our opinions and would consider representing us futher.
I never saw myself being involved in policy and I definitely didn’t see myself enjoying it. It’s amazing what you think you don’t like until you get to experience it. While I don’t want to be a politician I definitely enjoyed having my voice heard and possibly being a small contribution to a huge change that could benefit so many people. I might have to explore the world of politics a bit more.
Mayor Heitmann (center, in white), Jaimee (to the right of the Mayor), members of Ventura youth group the WAY (in blue) and other members of the SmokeFree VC committee. City Hall, July 2014.