“One of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine.” -William Osler
This quote from the father of modern medicine beautifully encapsulates the fundamental concepts of advocacy work: education, collaboration and empowerment. Advocacy; A once foreign concept to me, it has now begun grow close to my heart and take roots in the soil of my beliefs as the golden ticket to effecting positive change in public health.
As part of my journey of transition from a pharmacist to a medical student, I have had the privileged opportunity to experience and be a part of a youth advocacy movement against tobacco use (Tobacco Free Generation, TFG) This was my second dabble with advocacy work – the first being a mere few months prior to this trip. Whilst the first opened my eyes to the evident importance of youth-driven advocacy work, this trip very much crystallized my conviction that the raw untapped energy of youth can be harnessed to drive positive social movements.
Together with two youth leaders, Dr Lynn Ong, and Jessica Koong, led by a founder, Dr Koong Heng Nung, our team worked tirelessly over a week. We convened with local policy makers for planning of TFG future advances, met with community leaders to introduce the concept of TFG, and trained local youth leaders in advocacy work and public speaking.
While it was indeed heartening to hear the policy makers and the community leaders express enthusiastic support for TFG, what impressed most strongly upon me was the work that was done involving the local youth leaders. The youth leaders were carefully selected from an impressive myriad of backgrounds ranging from poets, to public speakers and actors. Over days of assiduous coaching and mentoring by Lynn and Jessica, we witnessed the blossoming of the initially taciturn youths, leaving the confinements of their reticence to become independent and convincing advocates for the vision of a tobacco free generation.
I came away from this experience with two convictions that stood out as veridical to me.
First: I saw how raw youthful enthusiasm can be, and ought to be harnessed and channelled towards creating prodigious change in public health. The Tobacco Free Generation has been exceptionally successful in gaining traction in various international communities for this very reason: it recognises the untapped energy and virulent influence of youths and uses it industriously to drive positive social movements.
Second and more importantly: The Tobacco Free Generation end game concept distinguishes itself from other anti-tobacco and end game strategies by a single simple ingenious strategy. It creates no divide between the smokers and non-smokers, but rather, takes on the fight against tobacco-use from a refreshing angle. By doing so, TFG successfully removes the banality from the usual platitudinous teachings about the harms of smoking and bands the smokers and non-smokers, creating a greater reckoning force in the fight against tobacco.