On February 20 through 22, Ventura County Office of Education, with support from the Tobacco Use Prevention Education Consortium Grant districts and the Conejo, Simi Valley, and Ventura Unified School Districts, held the 21st annual Teens Kick Ash Youth Tobacco Free Advocacy Conference. Each year, this conference gives participants important, factual information about the health risks of tobacco, and equips them with tools to disseminate this information to their schools and peers.
This year, over the course of three days, over 500 students and 80 teachers attended the event. Day one hosted middle school students while day two saw high school students, and the week concluded with presetnations at alternative education sites on day three. While the audiences were different, the message was consistent: the teen brain is especially vulnerable to addictive substances – especially nicotine.
This year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Matt Bellace, a neuro-psychologist and subject matter expert on addiction and brain development – and also a part-time stand up comedian. Dr. Bellace’s keynote address focused on having young people understand how adolescent brain development can be directly affected by the use of alcohol and other drugs, but also how doing fun, positive activities without substances has similar effects on the brain.
After Dr. Bellace’s morning address, students were then able to attend multiple workshop offerings to give them additional information about vaping and other tobacco products, and how they can use different strategies (such as presentations, music, art, and video) to educate their peers and engage them in discussion about this always-important, ever-evolving topic.