Two days after more than 40 student and adult prevention advocates from Southwest Washington rallied and met with legislators at the Washington state capitol, the House passed a measure raising the smoking and vaping age to 21.

They now are waiting to hear whether the bill will be passed by the Senate and made law.

“I thought it was super cool to get to talk with everyone and get to know them and see what they’re working on,” said 17-year-old Maddie, who volunteers with the Klickitat & Lyle Against Substance Abuse Coalition (KLASAC) and joined Prevent Coalition. “It was super inspiring to know that I could be a part of a bill.”

The third-annual Prevention Policy Day, held Feb. 18, brought together representatives of seven Southwest Washington prevention organizations, plus others from across the state, to raise awareness of violence, youth substance use, bullying and suicide. Their message? Prevention works.

Prevent Coalition brought four students to talk about why youth substance use prevention is important and about their experiences and observations from Clark County. These youth advocates had received Prevent Coalition’s “Use Your Voice” training in December, learning how to turn ideas into policies, engage with lawmakers and create persuasive messages.

Youth Ambassadors educate youth from across Washington how to effectively engage with policymakers. Here, left to right, are Madison from Tobacco Free Kids, Ashley and Pranav from the Legislative Youth Advisory Council, and Julie Peterson, senior director of Policy at Foundation for Healthy Generations.

On Prevention Policy Day, they put what they learned into action as they discussed their concerns in meetings with Sen. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, and Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver.

“Youth voice is important to share with lawmakers, because youth are able to use their struggles to make the world a better place,” said 15-year-old Jaelyn, who attended with Clark County STASHA (Strong Teens Against Substance Hazards & Abuse) and volunteers with Prevent. “We can give our lawmakers our insights on what is happening through our eyes and the ideas that we have on what we can accomplish.”

Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, and Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, told the young people how grateful they were for their involvement in this important policy area.

For the past three years on Prevention Policy Day, advocates from Southwest Washington have shared with policymakers that raising the legal use age for tobacco and vape products would be an effective strategy for preventing youth substance use.

Prevent Coalition members also testified in both the Senate and the House in January 2019, sharing data and stories from area schools.

“We’re optimistic these efforts helped pass the bill,” said Christopher Belisle, Community Prevention Project Coordinator.

Participating SW WA groups

Prevent Coalition
Longview Anti-Drug Coalition
Prevent Together: Battle Ground Prevention Alliance
Clark County STASHA (Strong Teens Against Substance Hazards & Abuse)
Connect Evergreen
La Center United
KLASAC (Klickitat & Lyle Against Substance Abuse Coalition)

Ways to get involved

Prevent Coalition is a local youth substance use prevention coalition working for a healthy, thriving and substance-free Southwest Washington Region, including Clark, Klickitat and Skamania counties.

The group is funded by multiple state and federal substance use prevention and education grants, and is located at Educational Service District 112 in Vancouver, Washington.