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'Be smart, don't start': Hardin teen campaigns with Billings organization to fight teen vaping

Posted at 6:27 PM, Mar 12, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-13 12:42:38-04

HARDIN —  Whether she's breakaway roping, or taking care of her horse, Bubbles, 15-year-old Hardin High School sophomore Bailey Nelson has a lot of passions in life. With the help of Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Councilin Billings, she's using that passion to bring awareness to an increase in Native American teen vaping across Montana.

Nelson's a roping queen, a bull rider, and an all-around rodeo star.

“Going out and riding and checking cows, it’s pretty much therapy at home,” said Nelson at her Hardin home Tuesday.

Bailey Nelson practices roping

Now, she's also a role model. Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council chose Nelson as one of the faces of their teen anti-vaping campaign. It's a topic that hits Nelson close to home.

“I see a big problem in high school. Usually, the people that are in public vaping and stuff, there’s little kids that look at them also, and it influences them,” Nelson said.

She's not wrong. According to the Montana Office of Public Instruction's 2023 Youth Risk Behavior survey, 46% of Montana's Native American students use vaping products.

It's a scary number compared to the 25% of students who identify as white.


“Big Tobacco has been targeting youth for over 100 years, and this is just a step in increasing awareness,” said Sonya Big Leggins, the good health & wellness in Indian Country program director at RMTLC.

Big Leggins has helped give voice to Nelson's story, one of the minds behind the teen anti-vaping campaign, which includes posters, social media pages, and TV ads aimed at using positive peer pressure to prevent Native American teens from picking up the habit or getting them to quit.

“We chose Bailey because she has such a wonderful attitude, and she’s definitely a go getter,” added Big Leggins.

“It just makes me want to try harder to help out the community, to stay pure, and to make sure that they keep themselves healthy,” Nelson said.

Bailey Nelson

She's a go getter who finds her strength against peer pressure through her hobbies.

“When you’re out riding and stuff, it doesn’t cross your mind. You’re just thinking about like the beauty outside,” said Nelson.

Leaning on her faith to get her through tough times, as well.

“If I’m in a bad situation, I usually pray about it so then I can help myself, like self-discipline myself, and know there’s better things to do in life than vape,” Nelson said.