Apr. 29 1999
Washington, DC - The CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS today announced the national, regional and group winners of the 1999 Youth Advocates of the Year Awards, an annual competition that honors young people who have made outstanding contributions to tobacco prevention. The awards program — now in its fourth year — recognizes that kids are a vital force in the fight against youth tobacco use. The young award recipients have proven that they are a powerful part of the solution to this pediatric epidemic. This year's National Youth Advocate of the Year is Deanna Durrett, a 17-year-old 11th grader from Sacred Heart Academy in Louisville, Kentucky. Deanna has testified before the Kentucky House of Representatives' Health and Welfare Committee and has even taken her message to the White House, attending a rally where more than 1,000 youngsters called for comprehensive, national tobacco control legislation. She has been an active member of Kentucky ACTION (Alliance to Control Tobacco in Our Neighborhoods) and is the first teen to serve on the executive board of the American Lung Association's Kentucky chapter. Regional winners are: East: Sarah Conklin, a 14-year-old 8th grader from Barrington Middle School in Barrington, Rhode Island, drafted and lobbied for a ban on smoking in restaurants. Seeking another way to influence her peers, Sarah co-founded a youth task force to address problems facing teens in her area. For her efforts, Sarah received the 1998 Peter J. Murray Service Excellence Award, the highest honor given by the American Lung Association of Rhode Island. South: Christina Scelsi, a 17-year-old 11th grader at Port Charlotte High School in Port Charlotte, Florida, has been instrumental in creating and implementing Florida's statewide youth advocacy initiative, Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT). She serves as chair of the executive board of SWAT at the state level while remaining active in local events as chair of the Charlotte County SWAT chapter. This past summer, Christina spent two weeks aboard the "Truth Train," a statewide, 13-city rail tour designed to educate and engage other youth in the fight against tobacco. Mid-West: Gretchen Sneegas, a 12-year-old 7th grader at New Augusta Middle School in Indianapolis, Indiana, pushed for a statewide ban on cigarette vending machines, and last year she educated lawmakers on how easy it is for children to buy tobacco products. Gretchen directed a letter-writing campaign to state lawmakers and newspapers focusing on the use of state tobacco settlement money for tobacco prevention programs. she has spent the past year lobbying members of the Indiana legislature to declare the State House smoke-free, and was successful in convincing the Indiana House of Representatives to ban smoking in all its public areas. Central: Andrew Berndt, a 16-year-old 10th grader at Mounds View High School in Shoreview, Minnesota, has spearheaded a program on the health costs of tobacco-branded promotional items such as backpacks, shirts and hats, which resulted in a 8 x 16 foot "wall" of tobacco-branded merchandise. At a statewide youth summit, Andrew presented this "Wall of Shame," sharing the podium with former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop and then Minnesota Attorney General Skip Humphrey. West: Elizabeth McAuliffe, a 16-year-old 10th grader at Mesa High School in Mesa, Arizona, became involved in tobacco control advocacy after her grandmother died from tobacco-related cancer. She has developed skits such as "Smoky Spice Joins the Spice Girls" to educate elementary school students about how to resist peer pressure. This spring she is the chairperson of Mesa's 1999 "Celebrating a Tobacco-Free Life" Youth Summit, which will bring together youngsters of all ages to learn more about youth advocacy and tobacco prevention. The 1999 Youth Advocates of the Year Group Award will be presented to an outstanding team of middle school students from Runnemede, New Jersey, called C.O.S.T. (Children Opposed to Smoking Tobacco). Members of the group conducted a school survey to learn where children in Runnemede were able to purchase tobacco and participated in compliance checks to confirm the survey. They took their findings to the Runnemede Borough Council and lobbied for resolutions to rid their town of vending machines, end self-service displays, limit outside tobacco advertising, enforce the law forbidding the sale of tobacco products to minors and establish a clean air act for all public buildings. In 1997, they appeared before the New Jersey State Assembly and were presented with a resolution honoring their efforts. The 1999 winners will be honored at a gala celebration on April 29 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. Producer/director Rob Reiner is chair of the event and Emmy Award-winning writer and political satirist Al Franken will be the master of ceremonies. More than 600 people are expected to attend, including members of Congress; Clinton Administration officials; public health, business and civic leaders; and kids. This year's gala also will feature a silent auction to raise funds for youth advocacy programs. Among the items donated are ice skates autographed by Tara Lipinski, a year's supply of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, a hat autographed by Tiger Woods and a signed shirt from Billy Baldwin. Each winner will receive educational scholarships in recognition of his or her valuable contribution to tobacco prevention and a grant to ensure that their efforts to educate kids about the dangers of tobacco use can continue. In their year-long roles, the Youth Advocates of the Year serve as spokespersons for the CAMPAIGN, sharing their views on tobacco control issues with their peers and adults, working to increase awareness of the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics aimed at youth, and encouraging kids across the country to become more active against tobacco use in their communities. "These young leaders truly represent the best and brightest advocates from across the nation," said Bill Novelli, CAMPAIGN president. "They have all made great strides in fighting tobacco addiction among youth in their schools and communities." A selection committee of representatives from national public health and education organizations reviewed more than 130 nominations and selected the winners based on their initiative, leadership abilities, creative thinking and problem-solving skills, ability to communicate ideas effectively and impact on state or local tobacco prevention policies. "It's time for teens to stand up and speak out against the tobacco companies and let them know that we won't let ourselves be used for profit," said Deanna Durrett, 1999 National Youth Advocate of the Year. "The most important thing I can do is act as a leader and teach my peers to stand up for themselves." In addition to the Youth Advocates of the Year Awards, the CAMPAIGN sponsors Kick Butts Day, an annual initiative that involves thousands of young people nationwide in tobacco prevention activities. The CAMPAIGN also partners with the Public Relations Society of America and the National Education Association in pilot programs to teach youth advocacy skills to young people across the country. The Washington, DC-based CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS is the country’s largest non-government initiative ever launched to protect children from tobacco addiction and exposure to second-hand smoke. Click here for more information about the Youth Advocates of the Year Awards.