Vikings raise awareness about dangers of tobacco through organization

The student group Vikings Kicking Out Tobacco (VKOT) formed during the spring semester of the 2013-2014 school year through the leadership efforts of junior Cecil Banks.The club has continued to grow this year as six more students were chosen for the state tobacco awareness campaign.

“Cecil got involved with tobacco prevention [during the summer of 2013] and attended a state conference where he later applied to be a teen ambassador,” VKOT sponsor Patricia Bailey-Jones said.

The students who attended the conference learned about tobacco prevention and how to spread information to the general community.

“We go to a lot of summits and they basically teach use techniques to take out to the community and use,” junior Kayla Thane said. “Like how to promote tobacco prevention and how to get the word out to people in ways that they will understand it.”

While the summer conference helps train ambassadors, VKOT enables the application of those practices and the opportunity of spreading information to the public. VKOT started off small, but is growing into a larger organization focused on preventing tobacco use with many members joining since its conception.

“When we first formally organized, we started out with about 14 members and we finished the year at 39,” Bailey-Jones said. “We are now over 60, close to the 70 mark.”

The organization is not the only thing that has grown, as of this year six of the fifteen members that were accepted the Teen Ambassadors for the Texas Tobacco Prevention Initiative came from Bryan High. These members include Kaylee Gough, Kassie Gough, Kayla Thane, Chassidy Rusk, Caleb Duane, and Catherine Anding.

Applicants had to participate in an extensive application process, which included the initial form and recommendation letters and a video where they answered questions about tobacco prevention. During the second round, applicants then had to participate in a Skype interview to complete the process.

“It was stressful and lengthy,” Thane said. “But understandable because those chosen represent the state.”

Even though Thane experienced stress from the process the opportunity made it worthwhile because of her personal experience with the effects of tobacco.

“Seeing what tobacco does and how much it bothers me and the other people in my family just makes me not want to use it,” Thane said. “I don’t want tobacco to affect my family, friends, kids in the future, or my life.”

Thane takes her role in VKOT seriously and believes it is important to get the message about the dangers of tobacco to students.

“Students are at this stage in their life when they think nothing can happen to them,” Thane said. “But students don’t realize their bodies can become addicted to tobacco and realize they were wrong, and by then it’s too late.”

With membership growth of VKOT, the amount of involvement also has grown with more events dedicated to tobacco prevention and an increased presence in the community.

“We are going to promote Red Ribbon Week and participate in the Great American Smoke Out, GASO, and then we have a lot of tobacco awareness things we are going to do throughout the school year,” Thane said. “A bunch of activities students can get involved in and the community and events throughout the year.”

VKOT helps students gain experience in leadership and collaboration, helping to prepare them for life after high school.

“My goal is for VKOT to become one of the leading organizations on campus, not only in tobacco prevention, but in student leadership overall,” Bailey-Jones said. “I want kids to understand that they are leaders at Bryan High, that they represent the student body.”