Youth Empowerment Society of Summit wins Community Collaboration award for advocating changes to nicotine laws

Summit High School students Brianna Roach, from left, Logan Simson and Courtney Brown are members of the Youth Empowerment Society of Summit, which has been named the Community Collaboration award winner by The Summit Foundation.
Liz Copan /

FRISCO — When Summit High School seniors Courtney Brown, Breanna Roach and Logan Simson joined the school’s Youth Empowerment Society of Summit in 2018, the trio described the club more as a social group than one focused on advocacy.

Fewer than two years later, the trio and the Youth Empowerment Society have proven that a high school club can spearhead not only community discussion but also policy change regarding a matter close to their hearts: curbing underage vaping and tobacco use at Summit High School. The group won The Summit Foundation’s Community Collaboration award.

“We had no idea how far this would take us in the beginning,” Simson said. “At the beginning, we were sitting around in the … group, us three asking, ‘What do we see every day? Vaping.’”

“Putting that in real life is just so much different than putting it in numbers,” Simson continued. “Everyone around you vapes. You’ll pull up in the parking lot, and in a car somebody next to you is vaping before school starts. In the bathrooms, you can see smoke coming out of the stalls. … Vaping became so prevalent that no one was really reporting it. It’d be like reporting someone for eating their lunch.”

With those observations of vaping at the high school as its impetus, the trio worked with Amy Wineland, the director of the Summit County Public Health Department. Eventually, the students cultivated a sub group called the Youth Tobacco Coalition, members of which presented their observations and researched statistics to county and town representatives across Summit.

In the wake of their presentations, major changes to tobacco and nicotine regulations, rules and taxes were approved by Summit County voters and public officials.

The Summit Board of County Commissioners and all four town councils passed ordinances in recent months to increase the minimum purchase age for all nicotine and tobacco products from 18 to 21 and to add new licensing requirements and enforcement policies for retailers throughout the county.

On Election Day, 73% voted to increase the sales tax on cigarettes to $4 per pack. The approved measure also included a 40% increase in sales tax for all other nicotine and tobacco products — including e-cigarettes and other vaping devices — that will increase 10% annually through 2024. The new county tax will go into effect with the new year.

In the wake of a successful campaign advocating for the new laws, Youth Tobacco Coalition members believe the rules will curb vaping and tobacco use within Summit School District.

Soul of the Summit philanthropy awards

Award winners 
• Outstanding Philanthropist: Howard and Sue Carver
• Outstanding Board Member: Kim Dufty
• Outstanding Business: Omni Real Estate
• Outstanding Citizen: Dr. Walter G. Briney
• Outstanding Educator: Chris Hall
• Outstanding Professional in a Nonprofit: Noelle Sivon
• Outstanding Volunteer: Mary Anne Johnston
• Outstanding Youth: Summit High School Mountain Dreamers
• Outstanding Youth Mentor: Aaron Landau and EVO3
• Community Collaboration: Youth Empowerment Society
• Spirit of the Summit: Mark and Deb Spiers

“If you asked me at the beginning of last year what percentage vaped (at Summit High School), I would say around 40%,” Roach said. “And by the end of the school year, that was up to 55%.”

As part of their advocacy for the new regulations, Brown and club member Jessica Fernandez worked on Spanish language campaigning, including a presentation to parents and an interview with a radio station, to reach the Spanish-speaking community in Summit County

Reflecting after the new taxes and ordinances were approved, Simson spoke to why she and the Youth Empowerment Society think underage vaping has become more common. For one, Simson and the club believe the community’s vacation and party culture rubs off on high school students. When you add in the isolating elements of mountain-town life, Simson said, students can turn to drugs supplied by 18-year-old high school students and friends as a coping mechanism.

The trio also believes the vaping illness outbreak that became national news earlier this year woke fellow students up to the dangers, risks and unknowns of vaping. Since, Roach said the group has seen students in person and on social media disposing of their e-cigarette devices.

There are also the explicit physical reminders of the victory. Recently, Simson remembers a day she walked into a 7-Eleven convenience store here in the county. She noticed a piece of paper on display stipulating 21 as the minimum age to purchase a tobacco product.

Proud, there was only one thing Simson could do.

“I took a picture of it,” she said.

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