Healthier Air For All at the Annual Sugar Cane Festival

Hi, my name is Aysja and I am a Senior at Westgate High School. This is my first year being a member of Next Era, I honestly wish I would have heard of this amazing organization in my earlier years of high school! As a Next Era activist we advocate to promote a healthier Tobacco-Free Louisiana. While participating in Next Era I have personally become very aware and knowledgeable concerning the dangers of smoking, second hand smoke, and the air quality of our businesses, homes, and the environment. Now my job as an activist is to pass on my new-found knowledge and try to make a difference in people’s lifestyles and towards a healthier place that we all call home. The Healthier Air for All Campaign is particularly important to me because I myself have witnessed the negative effects of smoking in places of business.

My mom worked at a casino that allowed indoor smoking for 22 years. My mom would come home smelling like smoke every late night and early morning. She also tended to get sick very often with many upper respiratory infections because the second hand smoke eventually weakened her immune system from inhaling the chemicals day-to-day. She couldn’t just quit her job because she had a family to support, however all these years of inhaling second hand smoke puts her at greater risk of developing future health problems especially lung cancer, which she didn’t voluntarily ask for. Therefore, I have become very passionate about helping make indoor places smoke-free so people who don’t voluntarily choose to smoke, or people who have medical conditions that could potentially become made worse by smoke, and people who might be in a tough situation like my mom once was; battling between sustaining a family or sustaining good health, don’t have to worry.

The Sugar Cane Festival is an annual event in our community that celebrates the harvesting of Sugarcane accompanied by an agricultural fair based around the production of Sugar in our town. About 15 of us were working this event and we collected many surveys and messages of support, the first day we collected less, but most people had to be at a certain time and place for festival event, however the next day, we collected many more survey cards. A good note to take is some people just do not want to be bothered, especially in the Louisiana heat, and some are actually willing to fill out, learn and help out with the cause. One of my favorite experiences when talking to others was when this one lady actually came up to me herself! Which was very shocking and she genuinely seemed intrigued to learn. She in fact told me she herself was a smoker, and admitted to that being one of the worst decisions she had ever made because “it is veryyy addictive”, she then proceeded to tell me quitting was one of her best decisions she had made. She informed me that she was now 15 years smoke-free, and she even made some of the kids who accompanied her (who were very shy) to fill out some cards as well. When the family left I took a glance over the kids card assuming they wouldn’t have cared, or let alone fill out the card and its entirety, but to my surprise these kids also cared and had their own opinions to share, supporting the cause! People like this just made me want to keep going and strive harder to achieve my goal of Healthier Air for All.

I personally believe it is extremely important for the youth to participate in activism, after all we are in fact the Next Generation, hence the name Next Era. It is imperative to interact with and include kids at any event I work because they too have their own opinion on this important cause. I cannot wait to personally continue spreading the word, and be an advocate for Next Era so hopefully we can make Louisiana smoke-free and enjoy healthier air for all.

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