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Youth as Social Change-Makers

YATI team pictureYATI Team, Halloween 2017

Youth as Social Change-Makers

By Donna Pan, Program Assistant, Youth Advocacy Training Institute

The Youth Advocacy Training Institute (YATI) is a unique program of The Lung Association that is funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care under the Smoke-Free Ontario Strategy (SFOS). YATI specifically works in tobacco control to reduce use amongst youth and young adults. We do this by adapting our trainings and events to meet stakeholder needs as both policy measures and the tobacco control community evolve. YATI works to equip youth, young adults, and professionals working with youth with the knowledge and skill base to further the SFOS goal for Ontario to have the lowest smoking rate in all of Canada.

It is crucial to understand why tobacco control must begin with our youth. One in five Ontario students have been reported to have tried a cigarette and 15.3 percent of all grade 12 students have used tobacco in the past year. Additionally, when focusing on youth within priority populations (Indigenous and LGBTQ2S youth), use of tobacco had some of the highest rates: 17 percent for those aged 20-24 and 23 percent for those aged 25-29 years old. These statistics in combination with the fact that two thirds of all youth who try cigarettes will go on to become regular smokers in their adulthood illuminates the need for targeted cessation efforts.

The Youth Advocacy Training Institute encourages youth to become leaders within their own communities, promote health and advocate for change. From education, awareness and training, to collaborating and capacity building with organizations across the province, to knowledge exchange opportunities, YATI has a plethora of services to offer. We strongly believe in a peer-to-peer and multi-faceted learning experience for our youth to gain the necessary knowledge. In addition, we focus on both a tobacco industry denormalization and a youth engagement lens. Since 2005, YATI has reached more than 40,000 youth, young adults, and adults across Ontario. As we work directly with youth, it is critical that we continue to be easily adaptable to these evolving areas of tobacco policy in order to maintain our pivotal role as one of five knowledge centres within the province.

As the name suggests, one of YATI’s central focuses are the trainings offered across the province for public health units and community organizations. Trainings are offered under two age categories – youth and young adults from ages 12-24 and adults aged 25+. The trainings are free of cost, offered in both English and French, and are facilitated with a combination of both adult and young adult trainers. Our youth trainings are designed to support youth with the tools and skills crucial to becoming advocates within their communities. Training programs available for youth include Plain and Standardized Packaging: Plain and Simple, Walking the Good-Life (Mino-Pimatisiwin), Tobacco 202: Emerging Issues, Tobacco Industry Denormalization, and many more! On the other hand, our adult trainings are meant for professionals who work with youth and want to further develop their youth engagement skills in order to provide the necessary support needed for positive development. Some adult trainings offered include Youth Social Identities and Health Promotion, Social Media and #HealthPromotion, Promising Practices in Youth Tobacco Cessation and Engage 2.0 Principles and Practises of Meaningful Youth Engagement.

Walking the Good-Life (Mino-Pimatisiwin) is a distinct training program that gained popularity this past year. It promotes awareness on prevalent issues within Indigenous communities regarding the impact of colonization on tobacco from both a traditional and commercial perspective. This training allows youth within these local communities to address the issues surrounding the industrialization as well as commercialization of tobacco. This training was recently spot-lighted in The Dryden Observer where one youth stated that while they live in an Indigenous community, a lot of them had very little knowledge on the history of sacred and traditional tobacco. In order for these youth to become advocates, this awareness around the exploitation of natural and sacred tobacco must be taught.

The Youth Advocacy Training Institute also has a role in addressing youth trends related to emerging tobacco control issues. E-cigarettes have been gaining immense popularity and while the majority of users are adults, about 20 percent of youth ages 15-19 have reported to have used e-cigarettes. Shockingly, this statistic includes the 14 percent of youth who do identify as non-smokers. This illuminates the strong correlation between e-cigarette users and those who move on to become cigarette smokers. A new study found that 10 percent of the youth studied had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days – a stark increase from three percent in 20131. With that said, youth who have smoked e-cigarettes in the past 30 days were more likely to take up cigarette smoking which then led to an increase in those who smoked daily. This growth in popularity within the youth demographic, demonstrates that e-cigarettes may be a way to normalize smoking. While there is need for more research about e-cigarettes and their potential as a cessation aid, the research is clear that we do not want young people, especially those who don’t smoke, to start.

The Youth Advocacy Training Institute also plays a critical role in reducing youth tobacco use by supporting those who smoke to quit. One significant way we have achieved this is through the pilot launch of the Not On Tobacco (NOT) cessation program, originally developed by the American Lung Association (ALA). This is a voluntary program based within high schools for students ages 14-19 who identify as daily smokers and are motivated to quit. Adult allies assist youth over a period of 10 weekly sessions that are 50 minutes in length by facilitating programs that use different strategies to help them develop the skills and confidence needed to quit. This was piloted in more than 11 schools in Ontario from 2014 to 2017, with more programs scheduled to run in early 2018. The ALA’s NOT program has been modified for Ontario settings which includes implementing youth engagement strategies into the curriculum as well as adapting the evaluation tool and facilitation model. Over the course of the three years, 109 youth participated in the pilot programs where 12 percent of those who responded to the end of program survey had quit smoking. Those who did not quit and continued to smoke were smoking less than before from an initial average of 12 cigarettes a day during the week to 6.1 cigarettes at the end of the program. The YATI is proud to pilot a program that is working to significantly reduce cigarette consumption amongst youth as well as play a role in changing the way youth smokers think about smoking patterns and encourage them to take action to quit on their own.

The Youth Advocacy Training Institute’s core values and practices lie within youth engagement. Ultimately, we work to engage youth at every level as this framework successfully supports youth to become advocates in health promotion and tobacco control. By focusing on youth to become these change-makers is how we can meet the Smoke-Free Ontario Strategy vision together.

1 Hammond, D., PhD, Reid, J. L., MSc, Cole, A. G., MSc, & Leatherdale, S. T., PhD. (2017). Electronic cigarette use and smoking initiation among youth: a longitudinal cohort study. CMAJ, 189(43), E1328-E1336. doi:10.1503


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