August 26, 2013 1:48 pm •
Maria Basilio was looking for ways to be involved outside of the classroom.
The 14-year-old freshman at Wilber Clatonia High School was already active in athletics, including volleyball, basketball and track, as well as the FFA, but still wanted to do more.
Her Spanish teacher, Janet Burger, suggested she consider joining No Limits, Nebraska’s youth-led tobacco prevention movement.
Basilio decided to give the group a try, and was recently named one of the group’s 10 youth leadership board members for 2013–2014.
No Limits Youth Board members determine priorities for the program and plan statewide anti-tobacco events. The board encourages and assists local groups in organizing activism projects in their own schools and communities.
The group helped promote the movement to ban smoking indoors of public areas, and has held human-billboard demonstrations at the Nebraska state capitol, which Basilio said always gets attention.
“A lot of people’s signs said ‘honk if you’re tobacco free’ and they would honk or say we support you guys,” she said. “Or people who are walking by would ask what we’re doing and have questions about it. Even people who are smoking still ask us.”
Burger said the group isn’t opposed to smokers, but rather takes a firm stance against the “big-tobacco” companies she said market their products to the youth.
“It’s a youth-lead group and they promote youth activism against big tobacco companies targeting youth,” Burger said. “It’s not anti-smoker, because smokers are really the victims, too. They’re victims of their own addiction that they got from being targeted in their own youth or adulthood.
“Basically it educates the pubic about ways youth are targeted and educates youth about the risks. It’s a way of getting the word out about tobacco.”
Basilio said one of the group’s first priorities is operation storefront, in which participants visit stores that sell tobacco products and ensuring their displays are elevated and preferably behind counters to avoid enticing children who may draw a comparison to candy.
She added flavored tobacco poses a similar problem that the group hopes to eliminate.
Burger said the youth-lead group is a positive experience for any interested students to be involved with, and expects Basilio’s role as a young leader in the group to be a positive foundation that will help her in future activities.
“The teaching part is actually done by youth leaders, and she’s been able to get into this very young and will become stronger and stronger,” Burger said. “This group was instrumental in the Tobacco Free Nebraska movement to ban smoking indoors and I’m really fortunate that I work with some great kids here who go beyond their local community to work on regional and statewide leadership.
“I’m proud of them and Maria really stepped up to the plate.”
Any youth can join the group by visiting www.nolimitsnebraska.com, and Basilio said participating is as fun as it is rewarding.
“It just drew me because I wanted to make a big change,” she said. “I wanted to do something in my free time, and with this you can actually learn how to get people away from tobacco. Now that I’m in No Limits, I really enjoy it.
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