By Todd Martin
Special to the Daily Herald
Two Killeen students learned at a Texas Youth Summit delegation that their voices matter in changing the course of their state.
Joshua Sanchez and Vienna West, both students at Pathways Academic Campus in Killeen, spent three days at the Highland Lakes Camp and Conference Center and the Texas Capitol, where they walked through mock legislative procedures to learn the law-making process.
By the end of the Jan. 17-19 state delegation, the pair were knocking on representative and senator's doors, appealing for stronger laws against secondhand smoke in Texas.
Now, the two students are working to spread the word among their peers and the community to clear tobacco related smoke from buildings, public places and even private residences in some cases.
Kathleen Burke, their teacher, said she was proud of the students' enthusiasm. Already, the two have spoken at a local community group about their experience.
The two Pathways students were among 29 statewide chosen to attend the youth delegation through the Texas School Safety Center.
Both submitted applications that included personal testimony about family members' smoking habits.
Sanchez wrote about his parents and other family members who smoke or used to smoke and the need to accelerate incentives and beef up sanctions for businesses that go smoke free.
West said she wrote about experiences with family members who smoke, particularly the trauma of watching her grandfather die from effects of smoking and exposure to Agent Orange.
"I watched him die, and I don't want (others) to go through that," she said.
Sanchez and West described experiences getting to know other teens through interactive games and working through mock legislative sessions to learn about state government.
They learned that 10 Texans a day die from smoke related causes and that only 6 percent of the state is covered by city smoke-free ordinances.
The 29 students divided into groups to study and discuss health, education, law enforcement and health and human services related to second-hand smoke issues. The two Killeen students dropped off information to state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock and sat down with an aide in Sen. Troy Fraser's office to discuss the delegation recommendations.
They discussed a three-part anti-smoking proposal that the youth delegation drafted.
The first part calls on tax breaks for businesses that go smoke free voluntarily and submit to annual inspections.
The second part adds language to the state health code to provide building inspections to identify respiratory size particles, the effects of third-hand smoke in walls, ceiling and carpeting.
The third part calls on banning smoking in public places and private residences where the occupants are not the owners.
That third one, the students said, brought legislative concerns due to privacy issues.
"I saw their level of confidence rise," Burke said. "They had no fear going into representative's offices."
West and Sanchez said the delegation experience helped student participants break through fear and see their power as citizens.
"We as teenagers have a voice," Sanchez said. "I learned that and that made me confident."
For more information on the Texas Youth Summit's recommendations, go to http://texasyouthsummit.com/2011.