Blog

YLC Member of the Month: Niko Allen Sanchez Petty

This month, we’re highlighting Youth Leadership Council (YLC) Member Nikolai Allen Sanchez Petty for his stellar work on the YLC data collection project. His hard work and dedication helped the group develop key research parameters that will guide their project moving forward.

We’re quite proud of this young man and look forward to seeing the many more great things he will accomplish!


No Ifs, Ands, or (Cigarette) Butts About It

 

School’s out for summer. For many families, spending more time outdoors is a big part of their summertime agenda.

Our Texas parks and beaches are at peak demand for the next several weeks, so it’s a good time to remind everyone about outdoor smoke-free ordinances and why they matter.

Even outdoors, children and adults are affected by secondhand smoke. Asthma attacks, eye irritation, headaches, and ear issues are just some of the effects of secondhand smoke. But it isn’t just an afternoon at the park that is concerning. A 2006 Surgeon General’s Report outlined the dangers of prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke, which include cancer and heart disease in addition to asthma and other respiratory issues. While most studies about secondhand smoke are directly related to indoor exposure, more recent studies have shown that secondhand exposure outdoors can be significant.

Because we know now there is no safe level of secondhand smoke, many communities are looking at expanding their smoke-free policies to include outdoor spaces as well. In addition to protecting people from secondhand smoke, outdoor smoking ordinances can also be helpful to individuals who are trying to quit smoking by eliminating triggers.

They also send an important message to our kids that smoking is not a community norm, which can help prevent later tobacco usage.

When looking at outdoor smoking ordinances, it’s also worth considering the environmental impact of outdoor smoking. Literally trillions of non-biodegradable cigarette butts are collected from sidewalks, beaches, and other outdoors areas every year. In addition to littering the earth, cigarette butts are also harmful to wildlife and can be toxic to fish. Cigarette butts are a significant cause of outdoor fires, and they cost hundreds of millions of dollars every year in property loss and restoration expenses. In a state like Texas, where droughts are common, fire risk is particularly concerning.

While outdoor smoke-free ordinances can be challenging to implement (especially when it comes to defining what is indoor vs. outdoor space), they contribute to a healthier and safer Texas. For more information about pursuing a smoke-free ordinance in your community, please contact Steve Ross, our Statewide Coalition Specialist, at sross@texansstandingtall.org or (512) 442-7501.

Summer Mindfulness

 

Summer can be a time for leisure and fun for many young people, but June and July also bring reduced parental supervision and increased boredom – and a drastic change in drinking patterns for adolescents.

On an average day in June or July, more than 11,000 kids, aged 12 to 17, start drinking. For most other months, that number is 5,000 to 8,000 per day.
Parents should be aware of the increased risk for drinking during summer months, and work to make sure the young people in their life have fun without alcohol.

After all, we know the myth that underage drinking is harmless is pervasive. While the biggest danger is drinking and driving, there are so many additional consequences to underage drinking.

Children who begin consuming alcohol before age 15 are six times more likely to experience alcohol dependence or abuse as adults. Additionally, underage drinking is linked to an increase in fights, sexual assaults, and unplanned sexual activity. Underage drinking also results in a higher likelihood of alcohol poisoning and injuries.

Right Under Our Noses

Young people are most likely to obtain alcohol from social settings and house parties. For this reason, parents play a critical role in preventing underage drinking – if they do not provide a space for underage drinking to occur, young people are significantly less likely to drink.

Parents should provide fun activities that do not involve alcohol; hosting get-togethers that are explicitly substance-free (a pool party, splash party, or movie night with adult supervision) can be an opportunity to bring kids together in a safe and alcohol-free environment. Parents should also check with the hosts of parties their children will be going to about whether alcohol will be served.

Social Host Ordinances

Texans Standing Tall is encouraged by a new development in some Texas cities that are adopting social host ordinances to help prevent underage drinking at house parties. So far, three Texas cities — El Paso, San Antonio, and Palmview —have adopted these ordinances that hold people accountable for underage drinking that occurs in their homes or on their property.

If you’re interested in participating in an initiative in your hometown, contact us for more information about how to implement a social host ordinance. Email Libby Banks (lbanks@texansstandingtall.org) or Brian Lemons (blemons@texansstandingtall.org), or call us at 512-442.7501.

This summer, help to encourage safe fun by being mindful of what your child does and providing appealing alternatives. We hope you have a fun and safe summer!

 

Whiteclay, Nebraska. Pop: 12, Liquor Stores: 4

Until just last year, Whiteclay, Nebraska had one liquor store for every three residents. This tiny farmland community had been selling alcohol for more than 100 years to the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

In many ways, Whiteclay seemed to only exist because of its liquor stores. For years, community advocates like Frank LaMere fought to end alcohol sales in Whiteclay, but as is often the case, the alcohol industry was a powerful adversary.

The complicated history of these two communities, which dates back to the 1880s, was captured during a yearlong effort by journalism students who set out to explore the connection between the liquor stores of Whiteclay and the many problems at the reservation—problems that stemmed from high alcohol use, including alcoholism, suicide, infant mortality, fetal alcohol syndrome, and crime.

Ultimately, Whiteclay’s liquor stores closed – all were denied renewal of their licenses in 2016.

The story of how Whiteclay’s policies changed is a fascinating one, and the student journalists’ stories earned them the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Journalism grand prize.

The advocates, stories, and history behind this ultimate victory have been captured in a stunning web site, “The Wounds of WhiteClay: Nebraska’s Shameful Legacy.” We encourage you to visit the site and learn more about this extraordinary community and the committed group of advocates who went against the alcohol industry—and won.

We know there are countless more communities like Whiteclay, so when Texans Standing Tall learned of its story, we knew we had to share it with you.

Activist Frank LaMere weeps upon hearing about unanimous decision to revoke liquor licenses.

Coalition Spotlight: IMPACT Waxahachie

Because they are among our most active coalition partners, Texans Standing Tall decided to spotlight IMPACT Waxahachie this month. Thanks for working so hard to make a difference in your community, IMPACT Waxahachie!

We took a moment to talk to Jennifer Heggland, Coalition Coordinator, and Shari Phillips, DFC Project Manager, to learn a bit more about their team and what they love about the work they do. Check it out below!

 

Happy Independence Day!

 

This July 4th, we want to help make sure you have a healthy, safe, and FUN holiday! Here are a few reminders to make this holiday weekend a great one:

  • July 4th is one of the most dangerous times of the year on the roads, largely due to drunk driving crashes. In the U.S., nearly 400 people are killed in traffic crashes every year during the holiday; 41% of those crashes involve an impaired driver. With AAA estimating a record number of travelers will be headed out this Fourth of July weekend, it’s especially important to exercise caution when you take to the roads. Be careful out there and check out our “Tips for Safe Travel During the Holiday Weekend” below!
  • If you’re on a boat this 4th, remember that boating and alcohol don’t mix. In addition to impairing the driver’s ability to make good judgements, alcohol also affects passengers’ ability to respond in the case of an emergency. If you’re headed out on the water this weekend, the American Boating Association has some great safety tips you can read about here. 
  • Fireworks are awesome, but they can be dangerous. Make sure you have a water supply close by, and don’t attempt to relight a dud.
  • Pets do not love fireworks as much as their owners do. In fact, one in five pets goes missing after being scared by loud noises, so make sure that pets are in a safe, secure, and quiet place. And, for more ways to keep your four-legged friends safe, check out this list from the ASPCA.
  • Always supervise a barbecue grill when it is in use.
  • If you’re outside, remember to drink plenty of water and reapply sunscreen often.
  • Have fun!

Update: Powdered Alcohol

Thanks to dedicated efforts from advocates across Texas, we came together and accomplished something important: we let policymakers know that powdered alcohol has no place in our state.

There’s still work left to do, and in the coming months, we’ll be calling on you to keep educating your family, friends, and elected officials about the importance of keeping this dangerous product off the shelves. But first, let’s look at what we were able to do when we worked together this session:

  • On February 28, TST brought together advocates from across the state for Advocacy Day at the Texas Capitol. After a morning of training, attendees visited their representatives’ offices to educate them on the dangers of powdered alcohol and ask them to ban the product.
  • In March, TST CEO Nicole Holt, along with coalition members from across the state, provided testimony on powdered alcohol before House and Senate committees. During the hearings, YLC member Andrea Marquez demonstrated how easy it would be for youth to conceal nearly 50 shots of alcohol in a makeup bag. See the video below for the same demonstration shared during TST’s Statewide Summit.
  • The Texas Tribune covered powdered alcohol and the committee hearings in a featured piece on their website.
  • TribTalk published op-eds about reasons for banning powdered alcohol from TST’s Sachin Kamble and YLC member Andrea Marquez.
  • Coalition members and other concerned citizens called and emailed their representatives to say that an outright ban of powdered alcohol is the safest path forward for our youth.
  • Powerful advocates and community leaders in Lufkin and College Station had editorials on banning powdered alcohol published in local papers.
  • Efforts to classify and regulate powdered alcohol as an alcoholic beverage died in the House and Senate.

And then this happened…

Towards the end of May, we saw that the label for Lt. Blender’s “Cheat-A-Rita” has been approved and it’s getting closer to the marketplace. Though we’ve made great strides, there are still businesses out there looking to make money by selling a dangerous product that poses a threat to the health and safety of our youth, even though there’s no demand for it.

Clearly, we have more work to do.

We will continue to monitor what’s happening with powdered alcohol in Texas and throughout the United States. Be sure to stay tuned and let us know how you want to be involved. Click the “Get Involved!” button below and let us know if you would like to:

  • Receive news and updates on powdered alcohol.
  • Contact your representatives about banning powdered alcohol.
  • Provide testimony on powdered alcohol during any interim hearings or the legislative session in 2019.
  • Write an op-ed or letter to the editor for the paper in your community.
  • Participate in a powdered alcohol workgroup.

Get Involved!

Thanks for your continued support and advocacy efforts!

Happy Memorial Day from TST!

Memorial Day is coming up, so we encourage everyone to take a moment to remember those who have given their lives in service of the United States. At TST, our hearts are grateful for and humbled by the sacrifices so many honorable men, women, and families have made for our country.

The increased travel that occurs during the Memorial Day Weekend also makes it one of the most dangerous holidays on the roads. To help keep everyone safe and healthy, we’ve put together some helpful tips for travel over the holiday. Happy Memorial Day!

 

YLC Members of the Month: Andrea Marquez and Carlos Vela

Carlos and Andrea after testifying at the Capitol

Andrea Marquez and Carlos Vela were selected as the April and May YLC Members of the Month for their outstanding advocacy efforts; both made trips to the Texas Capitol to provide public testimony on issues that affect underage alcohol and tobacco use.

Catching an early morning flight from El Paso to Austin, Andrea spent two days in town so she could testify on her concerns about powdered alcohol before the House Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee and Senate Business & Commerce Committee. During her testimony, Andrea discussed why she thinks it’s important to ban the product and demonstrated how easy it would be for a youth to conceal powdered alcohol packets. Armed with a makeup bag containing 48 Kool-Aid packets (the approximate size of a powdered alcohol packet), she dumped them onto the table and shared that the packets in her small bag equaled more shots than what you would find in a large 1.75L bottle of alcohol. She then asked legislators to think about which one they thought would be easier for a young person to sneak out of the house without their parents noticing: the bottle or the bag? Her powerful testimony helped educate everyone in the room on the potential harms we would see if powdered alcohol ever made it to the shelves.

Making the drive from Ingleside, Carlos came to Austin so he could testify before the House Public Health Committee. Though the hearing got postponed, super advocate Carlos hung around for an extra day so he could speak to the benefits of raising the legal purchase age of tobacco from 18 to 21. He asked for Texas to be a leader in the fight against tobacco by becoming the third state to raise the tobacco age to 21. Carlos also used his personal story about growing up around tobacco use and being offered tobacco in high school to help explain why raising the purchase age will help keep tobacco out of schools and away from youth during an impressionable time in their lives. Since 95% of smokers start before age 21, raising the age of sale to 21 is seen as an effective way to protect our kids from tobacco addiction and save lives. If you’re interested in learning more, Texas 21, a coalition of organizations working to prevent tobacco use, has put together a wealth of information on the issue. Check it out at texas21.org.

We are incredibly proud to call Andrea and Carlos members of our Youth Leadership Council. Along with their fellow YLC members, they constantly inspire us to do more and work harder to ensure we’re creating safe and healthy communities for everyone. If you’d like to learn more about the YLC and how to get involved, contact Georgia Marks at gmarks@texansstandingtall.org or 512.442.7501.

Andrea reminding us to make every day awesome!

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

For nearly 70 years, numerous organizations throughout the country have observed May as Mental Health Awareness Month. The goal is to spend the month raising awareness and reminding people that mental health issues are something we should all care about. Texans Standing Tall wanted to take a minute to “go green” (the color for mental health) and talk about the relationship between mental health and the substance use prevention community.

As many people may know, substance use disorders are considered a mental illness; they change normal behaviors and can interfere with a person’s ability to go to work, go to school, and have good relationships with others. According to SAMHSA, nearly 44 million Americans over age 18 have experienced some form of mental illness, and more than 20 million have had a substance use disorder. Nearly 8 million of those individuals have had both a mental disorder and substance use disorder, also known as co-occurring disorders.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) reports that, all other factors being equal, substance use rates among individuals with mental illness are higher than use rates among the overall population. Specifically, mental illness increases use rates by 20% for alcohol, 27% for cocaine, and 86% for cigarettes. Further, their research states that “there is a definite connection between mental illness and the use of addictive substances,” revealing that individuals with an existing mental illness consume 38% of all alcohol, 44% of all cocaine, and 40% of all cigarettes. Beyond that, individuals who have ever experienced mental illness consume about 69% of all alcohol, 84% of all cocaine, and 68% of all cigarettes.

Interestingly, the NBER points to price increases as a way to reduce use among this high-consuming group. And, in a way, this brings us full circle to our work in the prevention community. At TST, we have an ongoing focus on environmental prevention strategies. For example, we advocate for raising alcohol excise taxes since they haven’t been raised in Texas since 1984, but a dime a drink increase would be an effective way to improve public health and safety in our state. Such strategies allow us to create change that not only prevents youth substance use, but also helps prevent other physical, mental, and social health issues that can occur alongside or as a result of substance use. Conversely, by taking an interest in addressing mental health issues early on, we may also be able to prevent substance use issues that can occur downstream.

While it is often easy to operate within the prevention field alone, it’s important to remember that the more we can work with others – both inside and outside of prevention – the more we can do to make a huge difference in people’s lives. Our challenge to you is to keep building new relationships (and let us know about your successes when you do)! And in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, reach out to a mental health ally to learn more about the work they do and how you can support each other in your efforts to create safe and healthy communities for everyone.

If you’d like to learn more about TST’s work related to mental health issues, contact our Peer Policy Fellow, Sachin Kamble, at 512.442.7501 or skamble@texansstandingtall.org.