Letters to the Editor

Students take stand against tobacco


To the Editor:

The need for youth to speak up and make their voices heard about the issues they care about is as important as ever, which is why one student-led organization in Florida is leading the way in the fight against the tobacco industry and the addictive products that target youth.

Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) is a statewide youth organization focused on educating, empowering and mobilizing Florida youth to revolt against and de-glamorize Big Tobacco. As a member of the St. Johns SWAT chapter, I believe SWAT is an important cause more youth should get involved in. SWAT allows my fellow SWAT club members and I the opportunity to share the harmful effects of tobacco products such as cigarettes, vapes and dip through tabling events and tobacco-related observances such as Not A Lab Rat Day and Take Down Tobacco National Day of Action. Despite significant progress over the years, tobacco and e-cigarette use is still prevalent, and the tobacco industry’s antics must be stopped. SWAT is working to change the social norms associated with tobacco, including e-cigarettes.

SWAT has been educating and empowering youth and communities since 1998. SWAT has had several successful initiatives throughout the years. “Not a Replacement” was a statewide campaign where thousands of youth reminded tobacco companies that they are unique individuals with the potential to make a positive impact on their community. “Not a Lab Rat” is the current statewide campaign that focuses on the truth behind e-cigarettes and how youth can stop the spread of misinformation. Through such initiatives, SWAT continues to work toward changing the way people think about tobacco, making it less desirable, less acceptable and less accessible.

My reason for joining SWAT was clear. The first time I saw SWAT, Students Working Against Tobacco, a few upperclassmen sat at the table asking people to sign it. Since I already had strong feelings against nicotine, signing the table was a no-brainer. Some time went by, and I saw the table again. At this moment, I realized that I could make a difference as a leader within the club. So, I contacted the club's sponsor, Dr. Bundshuh. She told me I could help become part of the club’s leadership the following year. Joining SWAT helped me by being taught how to campaign against the harmful effects of nicotine. We inform our peers that are walking by when we are tabling about the adverse impacts that nicotine has. Fast forward to this year, the club has expanded, and the number of people involved is at an all-time high. Because of this, the club leaders were fortunate enough to sit down with the St. Johns County School Board chair, Mrs. Beverly Slough. We explained to her how we make a difference as the leaders of SWAT. While there are over 300 active SWAT clubs in Florida and over 4,300 active youth members in Florida, it was remarkable to know that our school drew enough attention to attract the school board chair. Being in SWAT has made me feel like I have made a difference within the school, and the ideologies we represent in our program have made their way across the county.

In our community, the St. Johns SWAT chapter helped make a difference by recruiting youth to join SWAT during eighth grade ramp-up at Creekside High School, attending local events to promote the dangers of youth e-cigarette use, organizing community and beach cleanups and meeting with our St. Johns County School District chair, Mrs. Beverly Slough, to voice support for anti-tobacco and anti-e-cigarette in school policies, and partnering with our local organization such as Hanley Foundation, EPIC Behavior Health, Prevention Coalition of St. Johns County, St. Johns County Health Department, Tobacco Free St. Johns and National Guard DDRO to bring Red Ribbon Week and Prevention Week to our school. We were honored to attend regional SWAT club meetings to discuss different ways SWAT students in other counties are promoting SWAT and educating their peers and local community.

There is still work to be done to protect our generation and future generations from the tobacco industry. By working with peers, students can create change that will keep tobacco products out of St. Johns County and improve the health of our family, friends and community. SWAT is open to all Florida youth in sixth-12th grades. There is a SWAT chapter in every county in Florida, and some counties also have clubs in schools and community organizations. In St. Johns, we have two SWAT clubs. One is at St. Augustine High School, and one is at Creekside High School. Next year we are hoping to have five active SWAT clubs during the ’24-25 school year.

If you are interested in learning more about SWAT and how youth can get involved, contact Jacqueline Rush at jacqueline@civcom.com or visit www.SWATFlorida.com. I hope that in writing this, more youth are inspired to stand up and speak out against the tobacco industry by joining SWAT.


Adam Harvery

Creekside High School SWAT member