First published in the Aug. 25 print issue of the San Marino Tribune
It’s an impressive accomplishment to start a charitable organization while one is still in high school, but it reaches yet another dimension when considering its impressive accomplishments. While just a junior at San Marino High School, Lisa Lu founded and took the reins as president of International Youth Tobacco Control.
IYTC is a nonprofit organization she started in 2017 that comprises more than 200 members in the United States, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Pakistan, Philippines and Saudi Arabia working to prevent teenage tobacco use globally. Up to date, it has impacted 15 million youths globally.
“I have just seen too many young people smoking,” Lu said, shortly after launching the organization. “You would think that in this current age when we know the dangers of smoking it wouldn’t be so prevalent among young people, but it still is.”
In 2020, IYTC met with Gov. Gavin Newsom over Zoom to discuss SB793, a bill that would ban all flavored tobacco products in California. Newsom signed the bill into law after speaking with Lu and fellow IYTC representatives, Kimia Hassibi and Oscar Lu.
The tobacco industry is attempting to overturn this law in a measure, Proposition 31, placed on the November 2022 ballot.
That hasn’t deterred IYTC a bit. Lu noticed an ever-growing popularity among youth in Formula 1 racing, which has been the only sport that still permits tobacco sponsorships. IYTC organized 16 countries as co-signatories and published an open letter to the FIA, the governing body of Formula 1.
“The president of the FIA wrote back,” said Lu. “IYTC subsequently initiated a video campaign called ‘Dear FIA, A Message from Youth Around the World’ that quickly garnered more than 70,000 online views.
For the second consecutive year, IYTC has partnered with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health in spreading awareness online to students and parents.
This year alone, IYTC hosted three events overseas in Kenya, South Africa and Indonesia to educate youths overseas about the harms of tobacco. In the United States, IYTC operates in California, Indiana and Wisconsin. The California chapter is headed by San Marino students Gianna Karkafi, Nicholas Luu, and Taline Nesnas. The group hosted a campaign against vaping during the school’s Red Ribbon week last year.
“The California chapter also partners with local nonprofits such as Asian Youth Center to educate kids about the harms of tobacco,” Lu said.
In April 2020 — after the pandemic lockdown — IYTC donated personal protective equipment to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, USC Keck Hospital and the Norris Cancer Hospital. The equipment included 315 CDC-approved N95 respirators, 3,850 FDA-approved surgical masks, 1,300 examination gloves, 240 fluid-resistant isolation gowns, 20 protective coveralls and 30 protective goggles.
It seems almost inconceivable that Lu has enough time to operate anything, let alone something with the effect of IYTC.
But the journey has also traveled through hostile territory. Lu and IYTC have faced heavy opposition from e-cigarette and vaping companies, consumers, lawyers and even doctors.
“This experience showed the members and I how powerful our enemy is and evoked our passion to advance our mission,” she said. “Every teen deserves a healthy life.”
Which happens to be the mission statement of her group.
A 2020 graduate of San Marino High School, Lu is a rising junior at Stanford, double majoring in political science and economics. She is the chief of staff of Associated Students of Stanford University, which is the school’s student government organization. Lu also captains the Mock Trial and Model U.N. teams, is president of Stanford Women in Law, and vice president of chapter relations of the forum for American Chinese exchange.
And she plays for the women’s club basketball team.
“I am so happy that IYTC continues to positively affect the lives of people around the world, especially young people,” said Lu.