MARSHALL - A group of Marshall High School students took a trip to the Cities last week, but it wasn't for a concert or for shopping at Mall of America or to see the farm babies exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo.
As members of the Southwest Community Health Improvement Program coalition, juniors Collin Reilly, Elizabeth Her, McKeigh Bossuyt and Nicole Wyffels, along with sophomore Emily Her joined peers from Luverne and Adrian at the state Capitol recently to advocate to make foster homes smoke-free and to have common-sense regulations introduced on e-cigarettes.
"Visiting the Capitol was important because it was a chance to advocate about something I care about, and the health of each individual is important," said Elizabeth Her. "Many people don't see how important their health is, but the health of one person can affect the health of others, whether in a positive or negative way."
The youth met with Sen. Gary Dahms and Rep. Chris Swedzinski to discuss the proposals. The bill affecting foster homes would add smoke-free environments to a checklist of health and safety standards for foster care. Secondhand smoke is a known cause of SIDS, respiratory infections, asthma attacks and ear infections, and nearly 80 percent of foster children in the United States already have at least one chronic medical condition, Southwest CHIP?said.
"The visit was important because we believe that by talking to our legislators, we could help pass the bill to regulate the use of e-cigs and the smoke-free foster care bill," Wyffels said.
Another piece of legislation would restrict the use of e-cigarettes in indoor public places.
The legislation would also help protect kids by keeping e-cigarettes behind the counter and penalizing retailers who sell them to minors.
"To me, e-cigarettes should be regulated just like regular cigarettes," Elizabeth Her said. "Both are health hazards that greatly affect one's health. I think we need to do something about it, and that was one of the main goals for the trip."
"I think e-cigs can be a good thing to certain people, but they are so unregulated that they are being misused by many people including teens," Wyffels said. "I agree with the federal government and the restrictions they want to impose. I feel that e-cigs should be treated the exact way as regular cigarettes."
Bossuyt, too, said e-cigarettes need more regulations placed on them, calling them a gateway to other harmful substances.
"They may not have any proven health hazards so far, but once people, especially teenagers, start using e-cigs, they may start using actual tobacco and other harmful substances," she said.
Southwest CHIP cited a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota study showing that 93 percent of Minnesotans support smoke-free foster care. The study also showed that 79 percent of Minnesotans support including e-cigarettes in the Freedom to Breathe Act, which banned smoking in workplaces, including bars and restaurants.
The students said they were excited about getting involved in the political process at the advocacy level and thinks youth can have an impact when it comes to policymaking.
"Personally, I would say that for the politicians to see kids getting involved in something they are passionate about can make a big impression," Elizabeth Her said. "Mainly because we are a younger generation and will have a bigger impact on the generations that will follow."
"I definitely think politicians like hearing from kids," said Wyffels. "I think they are more willing to listen because they know we truly care about what we are talking about. It is a bold move that the legislators seemed to appreciate."
Bossuyt called the trip to the Capitol a learning experience.
"I think it is extremely important that kids be involved in politics; politicians do listen to what we have to say and that is extremely empowering," she said. "We just hope that they will really consider what we care so much about."
The Food and Drug Administration last week proposed a crackdown on e-cigarettes and other tobacco products. The FDA proposed rules that call for strict regulation of electronic cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels, water pipe tobacco and hookahs. Currently, only cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco come under the FDA's regulatory authority.
"I think e-cigs need to have many more regulations placed on them," Bossuyt said.