Nate Biggs is the coalition director of Linking Efforts Against Drugs (LEAD) in Illinois. Biggs, who previously served as a youth program specialist at Youth to Youth International in Ohio, spoke with Interact for Health about efforts to reduce youth tobacco use.
Interact for Health: Could you explain more about LEAD and its goals?
Nate Biggs: LEAD is primarily a substance misuse prevention organization that's been around for over 30 years. About six years ago, LEAD started focusing on a holistic approach to substance misuse prevention. We work with teens, community leaders, school officials, law enforcement, general health care providers, mayors and city councils with the goal of building a healthier community for teenagers.
Interact for Health: What lessons have you learned through your work?
Biggs: It is all about relationships. We started a youth group at LEAD after seeing that teens can be a bit hesitant to speak about tobacco use prevention. Teens often assume their peers use tobacco so speaking out against it would be going against the norm. One of the best things you can do to overcome that obstacle is to build relationships among teens who have a similar goal in prevention. At Youth to Youth International, we used youth groups to show teens there is a network of other teens who care about preventing youth tobacco use and other issues they are trying to address.
Interact for Health: What accomplishments at LEAD are you most proud of?
Biggs: LEAD this year is poised to reach a record number of people in the community. In one week alone, LEAD has reached 2,000 people with youth-focused and faculty-focused in-person presentations on a number of topics including alcohol use and vaping. That is not a result of LEAD advertising the presentations. It is the community realizing preventing youth tobacco use and other issues are important.
Interact for Health: Could you tell me a brief story that illustrates the effect of your organization's work in the community?
Biggs: About 80% or more of LEAD's presentations focus on vaping. The presentations cover the science of vaping, how vaping influences people socially, what happens when you vape, why people should not vape and more. What we find through these presentations is a lot of youth do not know about the effects of vaping. They think vaping is kind of cool, but they are unaware vaping is not necessarily safe or healthy. Once they find out, their opinions quickly change. We are starting to see downward trends in teen vaping usage rates. We are hoping our education efforts will help continue to reverse the increase in teen vaping we previously experienced.
Interact for Health: What about your work excites you or is most fulfilling?
Biggs: It is the opportunity to connect with the community. Every time I see a member of the community show up to one of LEAD's presentations and ask questions I know this is another community member who cares. It is not only people who work as professionals in the field who care, but also the people who choose to volunteer and give their time to what matters to them. That keeps me going.
Interact for Health regularly conducts research and collects data in order to monitor and evaluate our region’s health status and to measure public opinions about health policy.
Our Health in Action stories highlight the innovative work our grantees are doing to help reduce tobacco use, address the opioid epidemic and ensure that children can access health care through school-based health centers. We also interview people working on those issues at other organizations across the country to learn what works for them.
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