The Growing Up Tobacco-Free in Alaska Project works to create a healthier environment for Head Start children in 23 Head Start communities by promoting tobacco cessation through education, awareness of risks and encouragement of becoming healthy, tobacco-free role models. In 2014, the project also plans to promote the development of smoke-free policies in the communities while developing and strengthening coalitions within the communities, the regions and state.
State of Alaska funding supports the Growing Up Tobacco Free in Alaska project in RurAL CAP Head Start centers. Over the next four years, Tobacco Free program staff will work with Head Start staff to expand their tobacco prevention outreach beyond the Head Start centers to tribal and city governments, schools, stores and other businesses and homes. Through this same funding, BIRCH AmeriCorps Members will also begin to strategically incorporate tobacco cessation referrals and prevention education into their service with rural youth in 15 communities each year.
In an effort to have a tobacco-free Alaska, RurAL CAP staff support a statewide youth advocacy coalition called the ATCA Youth Leaders (Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance). This group of youth leaders meet regularly using teleconferences, emails and social media to develop their work around tobacco prevention and advocacy at the local and statewide levels. Research has shown that engaging young people in tobacco control issues is a strategy in changing social norms and preventing the initiation of tobacco use. The ATCA Youth Leaders strive to educate the community on the impacts of tobacco, and supports tobacco free areas. They empower their peers to make a difference in their communities. The coalition plans and then participates in two in-person trainings during the school year. In addition, the Youth Leaders and RurAL CAP staff support school districts to strengthen their K-12 tobacco free schools policies to a comprehensive “gold” standard.