Fire up the grill in North Philadelphia, gather a couple-a-hundred neighbors, friends and laughing children and toss in a 5k run along with some elected officials and what you have is the 11th Annual Strawberry Festival in the Strawberry Mansion community.

The Get Healthy Philly Summer Youth Tobacco Survey Team was also out that day to learn from the neighborhood what their attitudes were toward tobacco use.

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The Get Healthy Philly Summer Youth Tobacco Survey Team and Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley.

For many years, tobacco companies have targeted minority communities, especially African-American communities like Strawberry Mansion, with intense advertising of tobacco products. Research shows that these advertising and other marketing efforts greatly influence tobacco use initiation among youth and that nearly 90 percent of all smokers start before the age of 18. Current tobacco marketing efforts now involve products that specifically attract teens. For example, flavored tobacco, including both fruit/candy flavors and menthol, helps drive youth initiation and addiction to tobacco products and contributes to these high rates.

To help create tobacco prevention strategies that are more responsive to community needs, particularly around racial health disparities related to tobacco usage among youth of color, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health partnered with the Strawberry Mansion Community Development Corporation to launch an intervention and community engagement project that focuses on attitudes and knowledge of tobacco use among teens and young adults in the Strawberry Mansion community.

Strawberry Mansion Day
The Get Healthy Philly Summer Youth Tobacco Survey Team and Council President Darrell L. Clarke, whose district includes the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood and the Strawberry Mansion CDC.

What makes this research study unique was that it was conducted by neighborhood youth from the Strawberry Mansion Community. Specifically, the Health Department’s Division of Chronic Disease Prevention, through its Get Healthy Philly initiative led by Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, partnered with Strawberry Mansion teens and young adults to collaborate on a research study that is responsive to the community’s voice around tobacco health disparities and helpful to developing strategies that strengthens the well-being of the community.

As part of the project, ten Strawberry Mansion youth, aged 14-18, were hired and trained to design a survey that measures youth attitudes about tobacco use. They were further trained on how to implement the survey, how to use Microsoft Excel to input the data, and provided education on tobacco-related health issues, as well as community outreach strategies and job skills.

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Youth survey community members on tobacco use and attitudes during Strawberry Mansion Day.

After finishing up their surveys, the interns will then analyze survey results in collaboration with PDPH staff, generate a brief report on their findings, and contribute to PDPH’s policy work on tobacco reduction strategies as informed by their community engagement efforts.

To help fund the community engagement project, the Mayor’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion dedicated a portion of grant funds received from Living Cities, through its Racial Equity Here initiative designed to support local jurisdictions in their efforts to improve racial equity and reduce disparities across multiple outcomes, including health, education and employment. The Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement also provided support to ensure that the youth had the civic engagement skills they needed to continue their involvement in health and other issues of interest to their community.

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Nefertiri Sickout, Mayor’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion and Curtis Wilkerson, Director of Constituent Services for Council President Darrell L. Clarke.

The youth also had the immense support of Tonnetta Graham, who states that the project “allows our youth to engage and inform their peers about the dangers of tobacco use and the industry’s targeted marketing strategies, while empowering them economically with income and transferrable job skills. Their work will generate relevant data that can be used to strengthen our position for health reforms throughout our community. Neighborhood preservation is an inclusive process and we want all Strawberry Mansion residents, especially our youth, to know that they have a part.”