Youth Initiatives

Youth Advocates of the Year

Our Youth Advocates of the Year Awards honor outstanding young leaders in the fight against tobacco. The awards were presented at our 2017 Youth Advocates of the Year Awards Gala on May 10, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Meet our 2017 Winners

Youth Advocate of the Year

Carlos Vela, 18
Ingleside, Texas

Carlos has advocated for policies to reduce tobacco use at the local, state and national levels. Our 2016 South Region Youth Advocate of the Year, his non-stop commitment to tobacco control this past year helped elevate him to the national honor.

Carlos has spent the past three years tirelessly pursuing a smoke-free ordinance in his hometown of Ingleside. After the City Council initially rejected the ordinance, Carlos helped collect enough petition signatures to put the measure up for public referendum. The vote takes place this month.

Carlos is also active in the campaign to raise Texas’ tobacco age to 21. In March, he joined legislators for a press conference at the Texas Capitol and days later, he was back testifying in support of the bill.

Carlos is an ambassador for Say What! (Students, Adults and Youth Working Hard Against Tobacco!), a movement to reduce tobacco use in Texas. In this role, Carlos travels statewide to train other youth leaders to become effective advocates.

On the national level, Carlos has met with his members of Congress to promote FDA regulation of all tobacco products and CDC funding for tobacco prevention programs.

Carlos’ motivation to fight tobacco stems from his mother’s long struggle to quit smoking.

Group Winner

Noble SWAT
Emma Adams, 14; Faith Lorenz, 15; Bryce Riddle, 16; Brody Smith, 14
Noble, Oklahoma

Three years ago Noble SWAT (Students Working Against Tobacco) started with six members – but today its membership approaches 100. This incredible growth stems from the group’s dedication to reduce tobacco use in Oklahoma, which has high rates of smoking and related diseases.

The group advocates for change despite Oklahoma’s preemption law, which limits what localities may do. Noble SWAT has advocated to repeal the preemption law and worked with local officials to promote stronger tobacco prevention policies. The organization also worked successfully to amend a tobacco-free school policy to include e-cigarettes.

Noble SWAT hosts events to educate the community on the toll of tobacco and the need for stronger tobacco prevention efforts. The group’s most successful event was a town hall meeting that drew more than 100 attendees. Noble SWAT lined up guest speakers, performed an educational skit, put together pamphlets and a slide show, and secured donations for refreshments and door prizes.

The group remains dedicated to getting its message out and continues its advocacy for including e-cigarettes in smoke-free policies.

East Region Youth Advocate of the Year

Hannah Martuscello, 16
Dover, New Hampshire

With two older sisters involved in tobacco prevention, it was all but inevitable that Hannah would pursue that path as well. Through drive and determination, she has forged a record of achievement all her own. And spurred by the experience of an aunt who started smoking as a child and struggled with the addiction for decades before quitting, Hannah has become a dynamic youth advocate.

As a member of Dover Youth to Youth, a local youth empowerment program, Hannah educates her peers and advocates for strong public policies. Her testimony before the Dover City Council led to unanimous adoption of an amendment to include e-cigarettes in the city’s smoke-free policy. She also advocated for the successful removal of prominent tobacco ads at a store along the major bus route to three local schools.

Hannah works tirelessly to empower her peers. She leads an annual week-long summer training program for her youth group focused on tobacco prevention, media and advocacy.

Hannah has also met with her members of Congress (and authored letters to the editor) to promote FDA regulation of all tobacco products – including flavored e-cigarettes and cigars – and continued funding for tobacco prevention programs.

Central Region Youth Advocate of the Year

Adileen Sii, 18
Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin

Adileen joined the fight against tobacco after witnessing her father’s longtime struggle to quit smoking. She founded her high school’s chapter of FACT, Wisconsin’s anti-tobacco youth group, and currently serves as a FACT State Board Member.

At the state level, Adileen advocates for inclusion of e-cigarettes in Wisconsin’s smoke-free law and has also testified before the Legislature to support funding for the state’s tobacco prevention program.

At the local level, Adileen is working with her mayor and City Council to include e-cigarettes in their city's smoke-free ordinance and has successfully advocated for a comprehensive tobacco-free schools policy. She regularly meets with policymakers to discuss the tobacco industry’s harmful marketing tactics – including flavored products, cheap prices, colorful packaging and point-of-sale advertising – and urge them to adopt policies to protect kids.

Adileen has also met with members of Congress to urge support for FDA regulation of all tobacco products. She was a featured speaker at the 2016 National Summit on Smokeless and Spit Tobacco in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

South Region Youth Advocate of the Year

Nicolas Suarez, 17
Port St. Lucie, Florida

Nicolas readily admits he's a "mama's boy." He became a tobacco control advocate after watching his mother struggle with smoking-related health problems. His joining Florida SWAT (Students Working Against Tobacco) inspired his mother to quit smoking.

Through SWAT – a statewide organization working to mobilize Florida youth against tobacco – Nicolas develops interactive and informative events that highlight the toll of tobacco and the industry’s harmful marketing tactics that target youth. He is a member of the statewide Youth Advocacy Board, which works with the Tobacco-Free Florida program to set the direction and goals of SWAT and the youth prevention component of the state’s tobacco control efforts.

Nicolas also advocates in Port St. Lucie for policies to reduce tobacco use. He worked with the local government to grant proclamations to raise visibility for the Great American Smokeout. Nicolas also authored a letter to his state senator to highlight the work of SWAT and the Youth Advocacy Board to gain more support for the cause.

West Region Youth Advocate of the Year

Tyra Nicolay, 17
Shiprock, New Mexico

Tyra began using e-cigarettes as a high school freshman, lured by the candy flavors and unaware of potential health effects. One year later, during training with her youth advocacy group Evolvement, she learned about nicotine addiction and how companies market sweet-flavored tobacco products to entice kids. She threw out her e-cigarette and became an anti-tobacco youth advocate.

Tyra shared her story nationally in December, when she introduced U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy at the release of the Surgeon General’s landmark report on e-cigarettes and youth. Her leadership and visibility in the fight against youth use of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products led to her selection as the West Region Youth Advocate of the Year for the second consecutive year.

Tyra also advocates for policies to reduce tobacco use among New Mexicans, particularly fellow members of the Navajo Nation. She has spoken at the State Capitol in defense of tobacco prevention funding. She is working with the Navajo Nation Council to increase the price of tobacco products on the Navajo Reservation and raise the tobacco age to 21. She has also worked with Evolvement to educate peers on hookah use and advocate for tobacco-free schools.

Tyra’s grandfather died from lung cancer, and other family members use tobacco products, constant reminders of why she fights tobacco.