HANFORD — A group of Hanford high school students who are part of the Regional Advocate Countering Tobacco (ReACT) program are working to combat teen smoking throughout the city.
“We are a coalition made up mostly of teenagers in high school and we clean up tobacco litter throughout the city and the downtown park,” said youth member Darian Orduno.
Orduno and fellow member Cristina Carrera joined the ReACT program in Hanford after participating in a youth leadership summit program. There, they met program coordinator Jennifer Acidera, who introduced them to the efforts they are making to combat teen smoking.
“For our organization with the California Health Collaborative, we hold a youth leadership summit called Youth Quest,” Acidero said. “It was word of mouth that helped us keep this coalition youth group growing. It’s also an opportunity for them to earn public speaking skills and leadership advocacy.”
The ReACT program works with youth from all over the tri-county region. A total of 15 members from all three of Hanford’s high schools participate in monthly cleanups removing cigarette butts and litter throughout Hanford parks and downtown businesses.
“I started going to the meetings and realized it was a big problem in our community,” Carrera said.
Youth members participate in local and statewide events like Youth Quest and attend training for public speaking, developing public service announcements and becoming program spokespersons by working with local assembly members to help create policy changes for their communities.
Last year, the youth group was able to visit the state capitol and meet with legislators in their district, along with Senator Andy Vidak and Assembly member Rudy Salas.
Both Carrera and Orduno are juniors at Hanford High School. They say there is a park across from the school where students go to smoke. Many of them are smoking e-cigarettes – more commonly known as vaping – that are becoming very popular among youth.
The debate is still out on whether the use of e-cigarettes is a safer alternative to smoking regular cigarettes. There are some studies that have shown regular cigarette smokers who switch to e-cigarettes end up quitting.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered and heat up liquid that usually contain nicotine, flavorings and other additives, while cigarettes have a total of 599 additives that create 4,000 chemical compounds.
Some of the dangers and concerns with e-cigarettes is their ability to mask the scent of whatever they are smoking, rendering them capable of smoking marijuana and other drugs.
Meanwhile, the ReACT youth members will continue to work to prevent the use of tobacco and other addictive related habits from reaching their fellow peers.
“One of our goals is to eliminate tobacco use, specifically for teens. I know there are going to be some people that are opposed to what we are doing,” said Orduno. “A lot of people from the community have watched us cleaning up the park and ask us why we are doing it. Some seem interested.”