As she started her freshman year at Simle Middle School, Hannah Rexine says she was shocked to discover how many of her peers were participating in a destructive lifestyle choice, smoking.
Rexine, now a senior at Century High School, will be the opening speaker for the Bismarck Tobacco Prevention Youth Summit being held today at the Radisson Hotel.
"I saw a lot of kids that started making these destructive decisions," Rexine said. "It really scared me because I have a little brother and I wouldn't want him to smoke."
Rexine discovered an interest in anatomy and health at Simle, and that, coupled with her pet peeve — teens thinking their untouchable — led her to become involved in tobacco prevention.
"We're not invincible," she said. "In the future, it will possibly kill them or damage their lungs."
Rexine joined Students Against Destructive Decisions to advocate for smarter lifestyle choices and is the youth board member on the governor-appointed North Dakota Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy Advisory Committee.
Her activism doesn't always make her popular, she said.
"I do get the occasional gruff from other students," Rexine said. "It's not the coolest thing to be in, but it's probably the best."
Rexine will be among 70 students in attendance from the Bismarck Public high schools and middle schools, as well as students from St. Mary's High School and Light of Christ's 7th and 8th Grade Academy.
"Youth are our next generation, and we can really work to educate them on how to have healthy lifestyles,"said Jordyn Schaefbauer, tobacco prevention specialist at Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health.
According to the 2013 North Dakota Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 19 percent of youth smoke cigarettes and 13.8 percent use smokeless tobacco.
"Most people begin smoking before they're 18," Rexine said. "This is the target group to start educating."
The summit's purpose is to teach the youth to be advocates for tobacco-prevention, and it will explore new avenues, including increasing the price of tobacco and making local parks tobacco free.
"They are awesome advocates in the community," she said. "We teach them, they teach their peers. The information really gets spread community wide."
Nearly 20 cities have tobacco-free parks, but Bismarck does not, according to Rexine.
"It's another step to reduce tobacco rates in North Dakota," she said. "Kids learn by watching and listening. Taking it out of another part of their lives, like parks, then kids will be less likely to start smoking.