Whatever impact they may have on you and your personal decisions, you can't really deny the place that anti-smoking campaigns have in pop culture today. --- It doesn't matter if they're government-funded, independent contractors or even the tobacco companies themselves; many of the most memorable commercial campaigns from the past decade were born from the sole purpose of convincing people to quit and prevent younger people from starting.
One of the more unusual initiatives to come out of Utah has been One Good Reason, a project managed cooperatively with members of the Utah Department of Health, as well as youth leaders who help steer the direction of the project. Unlike other youth programs designed to bombard with messages, 1GR utilizes local artists and musicians to help spread the word in a more colorful and pro-active manner, encouraging the message through pop culture while also helping expose localized talent to a younger generation. Today, we're chatting with adult coordinator Andrea Kofoed and youth leader Gabe Stefanson about 1GR and the work they're doing as a whole.
Andrea Kofoed & Gabe Stefanson
Gavin: Hey, guys. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Gabe: I’m Gabriel, and I’m a senior at Hillcrest High School. I’m gay and transgender, and I helped start a gay tobacco-cessation program at the Utah Pride Center that hasn’t launched yet. I’ve been part of One Good Reason’s youth-leadership board now for about four years and I’m currently in the presidency.
Andrea: Hi, I’m Andrea, born and raised Utahn, interested in all the niches that Utah provides, music and fighting for what I care about. I’ve been working in anti-tobacco for about six years. Fighting against the tobacco industry can be as addicting as nicotine itself! My role with One Good Reason is to oversee the work the youth do. They come up with all the great ideas; I just make sure they can reach their goals. If anything, I like to consider myself the secretary -- or janitor -- to the group.
Gavin: How did the two of you take an interest in music, and who are some of your favorite musicians?
Gabe: Music has always been a huge part of my life, since I play nine instruments. My first was piano at two, when I learned the theme from Phantom Of The Opera by ear, so I’ve always been around music. I’m one of Lady GaGa’s "little monsters," and I absolutely love Grouplove and they pump me up to kick some ash!
Andrea: I’m a '90s girl, so my heart will always belong to 311. I mean, I’ve seen them over 25 times; three of those shows were five-hours long. But nowadays, I enjoy hearing what’s new because I love seeing other people’s creativity. Genuine creativity rocks, like Family Force Five, and my life anthem rocks to Rise Against.
Gavin: Andrea, how did you get involved with the Utah Department of Health, Tobacco Prevention and Control Program?
Andrea: When I was a wee lass, I saw the movie Outbreak and I said “that is what I’m going to do, I’m going to save people from getting sick.” Granted, I’m not finding a cure for cancer but I can do my best to prevent it. I graduated in health promotion and quickly took work in the tobacco program. The more you learn about tobacco, the more involved you get. It is so egregious what the industry does, and I can’t let innocent people be tricked by their lies, knowing now what I know. I’ve also been so impressed with what the youth can accomplish. Besides the music, the events and artists, these youth also educate legislators, stakeholders --whoever it takes to get a policy passed against the tobacco industry. Back in 2008, I attended a town hall meeting with about four members to talk to a legislator. There were only four other people at this meeting, and we brought up our issue and concerns to our representative. He responded, “Teenagers cannot make informed decisions.” I could see the flames of anger in the eyes of my youth who did everything they could to keep calm. We felt so disrespected that he didn’t believe youth could do anything! It was a sweet victory to see him cancel his own bill after he heard from us about 100 more times. That was a pivotal moment for us as a group, and them as teens.
Gavin: Where did the idea for One Good Reason come from, and how did the planning go to bring it to life?
Andrea: Great question! The group was formally known as The Phoenix Alliance, but we wanted to give it a face lift and spread our reach. This movement is organized and run by youth. We took 12 members and met with them 2-3 times a week for three months and planned it all out. They decided the name, the logo, what to put on the Website, the mission statement; everything. It was exhausting but well worth it. The thought process was, everyone knows smoking can harm you, so why do it? We feel teens start because it’s an extension of their identity, and rebellion to show their freedom. So we are utilizing the same ideas to be tobacco-free. One Good Reason is about your image, your control and your independence. By wearing our gear and supporting us, you are showing everyone your identity, which is tobacco-free!
Gabe: Like Andrea said, all of us youth chose everything. We started with pages full of logos created for us, but with time we were able to choose the logo that we have now. We call it a “cycloptopus” because it looks like an octopus with one eye, but it’s a vinyl record to resemble our position in the music scene. Basically, we have a cool logo that could be anything you want it to be.
Gavin: To be blunt, 1GR is a promotional campaign aimed at youth to encourage a tobacco-free lifestyle. Why create an entirely different brand rather than expand Quit Net or The Truth campaigns?
Andrea: I feel like it’s a movement. It’s really cool to have people come up to us saying, “I’ve seen that sticker everywhere, what does it mean?” Or seeing someone walking around town wearing our wristbands. Basically, we are a youth-driven movement supporting the idea to never start. People can quickly forget that youth are a critical member of the tobacco fight. The tobacco industry spends millions to advertise to youth and have been quoted to say the base of their business is in the high school student. If they don’t advertise to teenagers, they will be out of business in 30 years. The Quit Net is for older people wanting to quit, and The Truth promotes the 1-800-QUIT-NOW tobacco quit-line, so it didn’t really connect with us as strong for preventing youth from starting tobacco.
Gabe: One Good Reason is a youth-led movement. Basically, the youth being targeted by big tobacco are being educated by their peers, who are also targets. Nobody understands youth like youth can. We don’t hate smokers; we are strictly against the tobacco industry. We are trying to make it cool not to smoke and about making a difference
Gavin: What was it like for you taking over the adult coordinator position for the program, and what were your thoughts about it when you took charge?
Andrea: I was scared to death; I knew I would crash and burn or I could truly make a difference. One tactic I used was never tell the members “no,” and that really paid off. Adults get so easily frustrated talking to youth, but honestly, it’s not that hard: Listen to them and respect what they have to say. Once I got to know the members, my life changed. Within a year, I had one member win a national award! Now we’ve received many awards, shared our work nationally, and I invited all the youth to my wedding last May. We really are in this together.
Gavin: The program itself recently started joining forces with local musicians and artists, and made a big push to get its name out. What made you decide to link onto local entertainment in that way?
Gabe: Lots of teens’ role models are their favorite musicians, and if their role model smokes, then there’s a good chance they will start. We always wanted to be a part of the music scene to basically let teens know that you don’t have to smoke to fit into a certain scene. Besides, what better way to bring people together than with music and art?
Andrea: I have to agree with Gabe -- music speaks to us; we all chose the music that moves us and that’s why it’s so important to us as individuals. Music affects the decisions we make, like what we wear, who we hang out with, how we talk. It only makes sense to show our tobacco-free identity with music. Have you ever been to your favorite concert and picked out the people who look like wannabes and posers?
Gavin: Gabe, how did you first hear about 1GR, and what got you interested in the program?
Gabe: I first heard about One Good Reason in middle school, and it’s so hard to believe that back then I didn’t want to get involved in anything and now I’m in numerous leadership positions. Don’t get me wrong, I was a very ambitious and motivated kid and I still am; I just couldn’t find something that I was willing to dedicate my life to. My friend Erin told me about One Good Reason one day in class, so I went to a free event at the Castle of Chaos and then I just kept going to events and getting involved until I signed up to be one of the Youth Leaders. Now One Good Reason is my life and I get to wake up and do something that I absolutely love doing.
Gavin: What made you decide to get involved with the program and be one of the youth leaders?
Gabe: My sister and I used to the best of friends and did everything together. She started smoking during middle school and that was her gateway drug to more drugs until she chose heroin. It sucks when the one person you trusted is stealing money behind your back to buy cigarettes and heroin. Earlier last year, she decided to quit everything cold turkey and she’s been clean since. A few months into her sobriety, I gave her a 1GR pendant to remind her that even though it took a long time, she found her reason to quit smoking. I always wanted to find a way to fight the big tobacco companies for basically taking away her childhood and making me lose my best friend. No one else should have to go through that. Ever.
Gavin: As a youth leader, what kind of work do you do to help get the word out, and how has it been for you taking on that kind of responsibility?
Gabe: I have been to lots of concerts. One Good Reason goes to Dew Tour, Warped Tour, Pride Festival, and we hosted our own art gallery in November. The youth leaders meet once a month to plan everything for the month, and each of us does our own research and tries to stay on top of the tobacco news. It’s also common to see kids wearing our gear and taking profile pictures on Facebook or going to concerts and wanting to take pictures with us. That’s really awesome! I also came up with a great idea to have people take photos at our booth holding a sign that had their one good reason to be tobacco free. We did it at the Big Ass Show this past year and people got to take pictures with our awesome life-size cut-outs of celebs. You can check out the pictures on our Facebook page!
Gavin: What's the process in getting bands and artists to become involved with the program and the Website, and how much of that decision making is divided between the adult and youth leaders?
Gabe: I’ve mostly taken charge of getting bands for the Website. Now I have the log-in to the Website so I can update the bands every month, but I think the greatest part of doing what I do is getting to know all the band members. They are all such awesome people, and it’s been so great to interview them because they all love their fans and they believe in One Good Reason’s cause.
Andrea: Seriously, Gabe does all the work.
Gavin: The Website for 1GR has been overhauled to include profiles of the artists and bands that take part in the campaign, which includes monthly interviews. Where did the idea come from to expand the Website in that fashion?
Gabe: We’ve always wanted to not only show that these bands and artists support our cause, but why they do. Everyone has a reason to be tobacco-free. We also want to let teens know that there are lots of people in the music scene who don’t smoke.
Andrea: We are trying to showcase that being tobacco-free is broader than a presentation you get in health class. We also have a members profile we call the back-room. Anyone -- made for teens -- can make their own profile, message other members and check out our list of activism actions. By doing simple tasks and recording their efforts, they can be rewarded with free gear. There are simple things on there, from draw our logo on your shoes to presenting at city councils meetings. We have a huge list to choose from, and you can come up with your own ideas, too!
Gavin: You've also opened up a merch store where people can buy posters and shirts from previously featured artists. How has that worked out for everyone involved and how have they sold since starting?
Andrea: Instead of giving away crappy oversized shirts for free, we make nice, sleek, awesome shirts, but ask for a small fee to cover the cost of the shirt. It’s all not–for-profit and we want you to look amazing. Think of it as, if you buy a shirt, it buys a shirt for someone else. Most of our fans are hurting in the funds department so we love doing drawings and contests to win them for free. All merch is run through our partner nonprofit Project: 1200. Look them up on Facebook, they do a lot of action with legislative activities. As far as sales go, we don’t care about the money -- we want to support our artists, we want you looking good and we want you to share our cause.
Gavin: I noticed that 1GR used to hold events but you currently don't have anything lined up. What type of events are you looking to hold during 2012?
Gabe: In 2012, we want to throw a concert featuring our past bands of the month and have it be a super-cheap show because we kids aren’t made out of money! Just for good measure, maybe bring in a headliner; basically, just go crazy with the whole thing!
Andrea: I can’t wait till we get that show planned! We just finished our art exhibit of over 100 handmade death masks, a dinner table with missing family members who died from tobacco, and art from our other friends and partners. But you should see us again very soon.
Gavin: What kind of impact do you believe you've had as an anti-tobacco campaign since starting, and what goals do you have as an organization that you'd like to see fulfilled?
Gabe: I think just starting out with four people and now having around 30 people on the leadership board is a huge deal to begin with. At the Big Ass Show, there was a woman who came to the booth and she was saying how she had done meth and smoked cigarettes, but quitting meth was easier than quitting smoking. She had tried to quit three times already and it seemed like she was starting to lose hope about ever quitting, but I was able to help her get resources to help her try quitting. Just having her leave feeling more hopeful and confident about quitting helped me see this impact that One Good Reason has on helping people quit.
Andrea: We talk to so many people who say they look at their One Good Reason wristband every time they have a craving and stay tobacco-free. It’s hard to top seeing the look on someone’s face when they quit or helped someone quit. Beyond that, the Utah tobacco youth rate dropped from 8.5% in 2009 to 5.9% in 2011! Utah is still the lowest in the nation, but that doesn't mean there isn’t work to do. Our recognition rate is higher than it’s ever been. And the work we did in 2009 got us phone calls from the New York Times, CBS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a couple of other states. But honestly, I’m judging the group based on Facebook fans, so please Like us! We are so close to 1,000 fans!
Gavin: Are there any plans for you to expand 1GR beyond what you're doing now, or are you satisfied with the accomplishments you've made with the campaign so far?
Gabe: I can see One Good Reason going way far and expanding way beyond the Wasatch Front. For now, I hope that One Good Reason can do more activism and events to get more people involved. Kids are always asking us when we are going to have our own events and it would be great to have activism activities so teens could basically fuel the fire that is already burning to fight big tobacco.
Andrea: Totally expand! Most of our events are here in Salt Lake, but we have fans and members from all over. I just had a girl ask me to ship her a shirt to Florida because she was a huge fan of ours before she had to move with her family out of state. For now, we will keep it in state, but like Gabe said, we want to make it so everyone in any town will have a chance to get to know who we are and fight for what they believe in.
Gavin: What can we expect from both of you, as well as 1GR, over the rest of this year?
Gabe: To put it simply, I’m pretty much in love with One Good Reason and I want to do it forever. I’m so in love with what I’m doing that I applied for a national award this year to be able to go to D.C. to do what One Good Reason does, just on a bigger scale. I will also be going to college this year and getting more people involved in One Good Reason there.
Andrea: I think you can expect to see us at events giving away free stuff this summer, you will see us educating our legislators about rules and policies they can make against tobacco, you will see us asking for your support on initiatives, and inviting you to demonstrations or concerts we go to. The new year always brings so much excitement with endless possibilities. I assure you that you can expect to see genuine passion from the youth who are members and the message they share.
Gavin: Asidefrom the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Gabe: We have worked with so many people and I don’t even know where to start to thank people. I have to thank Erin for first telling me about One Good Reason, all of the other youth leaders who work their butts off, our amazing adult supervisors that keep us on track, the gays for being fabulous and all of the people involved in this cause.
Andrea: Wow, we’ve worked with a lot of amazing people. I would say Gray Wall Gallery; they allowed us to use her gallery for an art show recently. Check them out; the collection before us was all zombies. Shout out to all the artists that have submitted art --even those we haven’t printed, we still appreciate your art -- all the national artists, the bands that rock our gear and message, The Pride Center and our dear friends at X96! I personally want to thank you, Gavin, and City Weekly for covering us. This has been great sharing our message with you. We don’t use paid mass media so gotta send love to all of our followers and supporters because people hear about us word of mouth or from free media like City Weekly! Lastly, check out Project: 1200 -- without them we couldn’t accomplish as much.
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