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Q&A with Amy Taylor, senior vice president of community and youth engagement at the Truth Initiative

Oct 22, 2018

Amy Taylor is the senior vice president of community and youth engagement at the Truth Initiative in the District of Columbia. Taylor spoke with Interact about the organization's efforts to reduce youth tobacco use.

Interact for Health: Could you explain more about the Truth Initiative and its goals?

Amy Taylor: Our mission is geared toward achieving a culture in which all youth and young adults reject tobacco. We do this with our Truth campaign, a proven and nationally recognized public education campaign that includes paid media and commercials on TV and digital platforms. We also have a rigorous scientific research and policy division within the organization and we have a department geared toward educating and mobilizing youth on the local level.

Interact for Health: What lessons have you learned as the senior vice president of community and youth engagement at the Truth Initiative?

Taylor: One lesson is you have to meet youth where they are. You have to talk about the issues they care about. Tobacco might not necessarily be the No. 1 issue on their minds, but we know young people care about social justice and we know tobacco companies are marketing 10 times more in black communities than they are in white communities. That is outrageous to young people.

Interact for Health: What accomplishments at the Truth Initiative are you most proud of?

Taylor: One is that when this organization started in 2000, the youth smoking rate was at 23%. Today it is at a historic low of 5.4%. The other piece we are proud of is getting colleges and universities to go tobacco-free. We're currently working with more than 172 college campuses to pass policies to make their campuses smoke- and tobacco-free. We're particularly focused on historically black universities and colleges, community colleges, and minority-serving institutions.

Interact for Health: Could you tell me a brief story that illustrates the effect of your organization's work in the community?

Taylor: We had an intern. He was a biracial young man who did not know much about tobacco and hadn't thought much about it. He knew people in his family smoked tobacco. Mostly, the black side of his family smoked and the white side did not. When he learned tobacco companies targeted the African American community, he got angry and asked how do I tell this story? With our help, he created a movie called Black Lives Black Lungs, which we use as a resource on college campuses to start a discussion among young people.  We believe it is good for us to tell young people why tobacco prevention is important, but it is more powerful when you have young people talk to young people in their own voices.

Interact for Health: What about your work excites you or is most fulfilling?

Taylor: The reason I come to work every day is to give young people the tools, the resources, and the development to be able to become leaders and advocates in their community. I am a strong believer that all change happens on the local level. To be able to educate young people who maybe come from a low-income background or from the African American community or the LGBT community, which have been targeted by the tobacco companies, and give them the resources to demand change in their own communities is what makes my job exciting.

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