Jun. 3 1996
Washington, DC - Ben Savage, Rider Strong and Larisa Oleynik, three young television actors known to millions of American teenagers, are joining the front lines in the tobacco wars. The actors have been named Youth Ambassadors for the new National Center For Tobacco-Free Kids. The talented trio will be here June 17 when the Center officially opens. Ben and Rider are co-stars on "Boy Meets World," a popular program airing as part of ABC's highly successful TGIF format on Friday evenings. Larisa is the star of Nickelodeon's "The Secret World of Alex Mack," one of cable's top-rated shows. The Ambassadors will encourage kids throughout America to become activists on tobacco-control issues. They will ask young people to call their local and Federal politicians to support anti-tobacco legislation, form anti-tobacco groups in their schools and communities, and write letters to editors of publications throughout the nation. "In the small town where I live, I see a lot of kids smoking," said Strong, who lives in northern Califoniia. "I think cigarette advertising in stores and in magazines has a lot to do with why people start smoking. We should get rid of it." "I've always had a personal interest in this issue. On the set I'm always telling people who smoke to stop," said Oleynik, a friend of Strong's since they appeared together in a stage production of "LesMiserables." "The world would be such a better place if no one smoked." "Kids who smoke may not listen to their parents or teachers, but maybe they'll listen to someone their own age," said Savage. "When kids discover how cigarette makers are lying and deceiving them, that'll really turn them off." Center President William D. Novelli said the three "will provide the impetus to kids throughout the land to become advocates for their generation." The actors will serve one-year terms as Ambassadors. Their duties will include personal appearances, recording public service announcements, and appearing on promotional items which target America's youth such as posters, brochures, newsletters, and press releases. Savage is a 15-year-old Chicago native in his fourth season on "Boy Meets World." Ben's character, Cory, is a teenage high-school student. His older brother, Fred, was the star of "Wonder Years" several years ago on ABC. Ben got his start in show business with appearances in commercials, and has acted in several television shows and made-for-TV movies. An 11th grader, he enjoys tennis and basketball and lives in Los Angeles. Sixteen-year-old Rider was born in San Francisco and plays the role of Shawn on "Boy Meets World." He got his professional start at age nine, playing the role of Gavroche in the San Francisco production of "Les Miserables." Like Ben, he's a veteran of several roles on various TV series, and made his feature film debut in "Benefit of the Doubt," with Donald Sutherland. When not in Los Angeles, Rider lives with his family in a redwood forest in Northern California. There he can take advantage of his love of the outdoors and enjoy backpacking, swimming and other sports. Larisa, 14, better known as Nickelodeon's Alex Mack, has worked in the entertainment industry since she was eight, where she performed with Rider in "Les Miserables." She co-started in the movie "The Babysitters Club," and was the voice behind the young Odette in the animated film "The Swan Princess." Her TV credits include "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman." Her role as mentor is not new; she writes a monthly advice column for teens in Tiger Beat magazine. The actors will be tackling several huge problems: Teen smoking is at its highest levels in 16 years; Past-month smoking for teens in grades 9-12 rose from 27.5% in 1991 to 34.8% in 1995; About 90% of all new smokers are 18 and younger; Each day 3,000 children take up smoking; one third of them will die tobacco-related deaths. The National Center For Tobacco-Free Kids is the nation's largest private initiative ever launched to decrease youth tobacco use. The Center's mandate is to focus the nation's attention and action on reducing tobacco use among children. Organizations playing key partnership roles in the new enterprise include the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Lung Association, American Medical Association, National PTA, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.