News and Events

Levy County Students Working Against Tobacco Members Attend Regional Meeting
October 12, 2019

Florida’s Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) program hosts two meetings a year, where youth come together to learn new skills and share resources. The Fall Regional meeting took place on Saturday, October 12th, 2019. Twenty-one counties were represented by 47 SWAT members and 22 adults at Camp Keystone in Palatka, including three Levy SWAT members. The three Levy members who attended the meeting were Chiefland High School Sophomore Jasmin Guerrero; Bronson High School Sophomore Leah Fernsler; and Alexis Crum, a Freshman at Cedar Key School and a Region 2 SWAT Statewide Youth Advocacy Board (YAB) member. These ladies were excited to learn new skills to share with their school SWAT teams and other Levy SWAT members.

Levy SWAT Members Alexis Crum (L) and Jasmin Guerrero (R)

The regional meetings were planned during the summer by the statewide SWAT YAB members and the Regional Coordinators. The Levy County Community Health Advocate, Kristina Zachry, also serves as the Region 2 SWAT Coordinator. Mrs. Zachry worked closely with Levy SWAT member Alexis, who helped plan the details for the meeting and facilitated the meeting along with three other youth who are regional YAB representatives. The YAB is a sixteen-member group of SWAT students who are elected annually by their peers to serve as youth advisors for the statewide tobacco program. There are four representatives for each of Florida’s four tobacco control regions.  
Region 2 Coordinator Kristina Zachry (L) and Levy SWAT Member Leah Fernsler (R)

Florida SWAT has a history of creating impactful tobacco awareness campaigns, and the most recent campaign, “Not a Lab Rat,” focuses on highlighting the dangers of using Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) or E-cigarettes, like JUUL products. Due to a lack of regulation of these products, they contain several ingredients that may not be safe for long term inhalation. Florida’s SWAT members realized that youth are serving as the “lab rats” for the tobacco industry’s e-cigarette product experiments, and they wanted to create a campaign to educate their peers about the way the industry targets youth and hooks them with flavors. Florida’s youth are outraged that the industry is creating a new generation of teens highly addicted to nicotine, so the theme for the region 2 SWAT meeting was “Mad Science.”

The agenda for the regional meeting focused on education about the “Not a Lab Rat” Campaign, E-Cigarettes, Communication Strategies, and team building activities such as tobacco-focused Jeopardy and Price is Right games. YAB members dressed up like scientists with lab coats and safety goggles for their presentations and decorated the room with science lab themed decorations, including a table set up as a lab with beakers and other science equipment and a photo booth area with fun props. The theme helped reinforce the message that the youth wanted to make clear about the tobacco industry targeting young people with addiction.  

Region 2 SWAT YAB Members (L to R): Ryan Helmes (Volusia County), Shari Troy (Hamilton County), Natasha Counts (Volusia County), and Alexis Crum (Levy County).

It’s always fun when you can network with other youth advocates and leave a meeting feeling like you have expanded your skills. When asked what she learned that day, Jasmin Guerrero said, “The regional meeting was a very good reminder about tobacco and the harm it causes.” She continued, “Not only tobacco use, but also the addictive drug nicotine and the dangers it can cause to young teens.” Leah Fernsler was also surprised by some of the information presented at the meeting. “I learned that smoking and secondhand smoke can affect brain development,” said Leah.

Jasmin and Leah were very happy to be invited to represent Levy County at the regional meeting and they spent time on the way home outlining a plan for what they wanted to do at their schools to get SWAT members more involved and how they can share what they learned with more SWAT members in the county.

Alexis did a fantastic job representing Levy County and co-facilitating the meeting. She was proud of her efforts as well, saying, “Overall our region 2 meeting was a huge success. It was the perfect platform for us to teach members things they didn’t know like public speaking skills, vaping, and its harms.” She continued, “I hope the students who went back on that day take what they learned and implement it so we can have more new members next year.” 

Many of the SWAT members from around the region have become friends and love to reconnect at regional meetings. When asked what she liked the most about the meeting, Leah said, “I loved that I got to interact with many other SWAT members and made new friends.”

If you are interested in joining the SWAT program or starting a school or community SWAT team, please contact Kristina Zachry at or visit the SWAT website,