Vikings Kicking Out Tobacco earns top honors at state convention

In 2017, about 3.6 million middle schoolers and high schoolers used tobacco products. Vikings Kicking Out Tobacco, VKOT, has made tobacco prevention a priority at Bryan High and are aiming to stop the use of tobacco in schools.

The group visited the Texas Say What! Conference over the summer and received the award for “Top Performing Group” in Tobacco Prevention. The conference not only teaches students about tobacco, but it also allows them to collaborate with other tobacco prevention groups from across the state.

The group is devoted to ending teen tobacco use as well as getting tobacco out of the city. They have organized “butt pickups” where members pick up cigarette butts in parks and on the side of the roads. VKOT has spoken at city council meetings and they even got a smoke-free park ordinance passed to provide children a tobacco free zone to play.

“The use of tobacco is the number one preventable cause of death,” VKOT sponsor Patricia Bailey Jones said. “If we can keep students from using tobacco products and becoming addicted to nicotine, then they can become the first tobacco free generation.”

The group works together toward a common goal, and throughout that have formed lasting bonds.

“Not only do we participate in community service and activism for tobacco prevention, but we connect very well as a group,” VKOT vice president Veronica Verango said. “We connect like a family.”

The Say What! Conference works as an umbrella organization for all the tobacco prevention in Texas by providing a way for them to connect and work together toward a common goal.

“The conference had a huge impact on me,” VKOT president Nicholas Mcdaniel said. “There were a lot of people there with the same values. Everyone came together as a big group to fight against tobacco usage.”
“The conference opened my eyes a lot to let me know that VKOT’s work is having an impact and that we are actually reaching people,” Nicholas said. “It gave me more motivation and pushed everyone in VKOT to amp it up this year and go for it all.”

Bailey-Jones is proud of the work VKOT is doing and recognizes the effort they have put in over the past school year and over the summer.

“Their hard work, and their willingness to participate in so many projects and events last year made it all worthwhile,” Bailey-Jones said. “I knew that I had an awesome group of students in VKOT, but now the whole state of Texas knows too!”

VKOT has done a lot at Bryan High to help prevent tobacco usage and has even begun to tackle a new dangerous trend in high school students: e-cigarettes. In 2016, around 11.7% of high school students reported that they had used e-cigarettes. In 2017, almost 20% of high school students reported that they used tobacco products regularly.

“VKOT did a presentation to the Bryan faculty last year that included information about juuls and e-cigs,” Bailey-Jones said. “Continuing to educate the faculty and student body about all types of e-cigs is one of our top priorities this year.”

Though the country has seen a dramatic decrease in the number of teens choosing to smoke cigarettes, the numbers trying e-cigarettes are skyrocketing.

“The variety of flavors is what’s most appealing to teenagers,” Nicholas said. “The more flavors you create, the more teens want to try it and then become addicted.”

As VKOT continues to work locally to push for Bryan to enact a 100% smoke free ordinance, they will also begin working at a state level to advocate for change.

“Some of our members have been asked to join the Youth Leadership Council in Texans Standing Tall,” Bailey-Jones said. “In addition, we will be working to develop more leadership skills among our members so that we may continue to work toward making a difference.”

VKOT has had a positive impact on the community and the school as they continue to inform people about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke.

“VKOT is important to me because it is an avenue for students to change the social norm relating to tobacco use,” Bailey-Jones said. “It empowers students to find their own voice, helps to impact the lives of others, and gives me the opportunity to connect with students on a different level.”