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Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Announces 2005 Youth Advocates Of The Year

U.S. Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) & Mike DeWine (R-OH) honored as well
May 11, 2005

Washington, DC — The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids today announced the winners of the 2005 Youth Advocates of the Year Awards, an annual competition that honors young people who have made outstanding contributions to tobacco prevention.

More than 400 government, public health, civic and business leaders will attend the Campaign’s tenth annual gala tonight in Washington, D.C., to recognize these young leaders. The winners will receive educational scholarships and grants to continue their tobacco prevention efforts and serve as ambassadors for the Campaign. The Campaign will also present U.S. Senators Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) with its Champion Award, which recognizes national leadership in tobacco control. Senators DeWine and Kennedy are sponsors of legislation to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco products.

The 2005 Youth Advocates of the Year are:

National: Kassie Hobbs, 12th grade, Bettendorf, IA

International Grant Winner: Tracy Meng, 11th grade, Copley, OH

East Region: Kaitlyn Reilly, 10th grade, Dover, NH

South Region: Erin Sylvester, 11th grade, Panama City, FL

Central Region: Ashley Shultz, 11th grade, Waller, TX

West Region: Thania Balcorta, 11th grade, Davis, CA

Group: BOLD Teens Against Tobacco, Massachusetts

“These young leaders are making great strides against youth tobacco addiction and their voices are being heard,” said Matthew L. Myers, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids president. “Every day, 2,000 kids in the United States become daily smokers and roughly one-third of them will die prematurely from tobacco-caused disease. Almost 90 percent of adult smokers began at or before the age of 18. Youth are powerful allies in the fight to turn these trends around.”

National: Kassie Hobbs, 18, of Bettendorf, IA, is a senior at Bettendorf High School. She is the current President of JEL (Just Eliminate Lies), Iowa's statewide youth movement, and has served on JEL's executive council for the past four years. She is also the vice president of Ignite Iowa, the state chapter of the new national anti-tobacco youth movement.

Kassie’s most recent efforts focused on increasing Iowa’s cigarette tax. She was one of only ten tobacco control advocates invited to meet with Governor Tom Vilsack (D-IA) and discuss his tax proposal before it was announced publicly. She was the only youth advocate invited to serve as a member of the governor’s advisory group. During the legislative session, Kassie traveled to the Capitol at least twice a week to meet with legislators.

In 2004, Kassie spent much of her summer working to generate support across Iowa for federal legislation granting the FDA authority over tobacco.

International Grant Winner: Tracy Meng, 16, of Copley, OH, is a sophomore at Copley High School. She has been working with Asian American Youth Against Tobacco (AAYAT) for the past three years. Tracy was born in Anshan, China, and moved to the United States when she was four. She recently returned to China and spent a month working with the high school in her family's hometown and also helped her grandfather quit smoking. Tracy continues to keep in touch with the school and is working with students there and at AAYAT on campaigns encouraging the U.S. and China to ratify the international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Tracy is also working to establish a youth-led anti-tobacco organization in China and is coordinating with students from the high school in Anshan.

East Region: Kaitlyn Reilly, 17, of Dover, NH, is a six-year member of Dover Youth to Youth, which works to reduce youth tobacco and drug use. She is currently a team leader within the group and has traveled across the country leading presentations at state and local youth summits, as well as national conferences. Kaitlyn is also a co-founder of Ignite New Hampshire, a statewide anti-tobacco youth organization, and a member of the youth advisory council of YNOT – Youth Network Opposing Tobacco. Kaitlyn helped convince the City Council to adopt ordinances making a local skate park and a recreation center smoke-free. Kaitlyn has also worked to generate support for legislation granting FDA authority over tobacco.

South Region: Erin Sylvester, 16, of Panama City, FL, is a junior at Arnold High School. She is currently the State Chair of Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT). In 2002, Erin led efforts to pass a tobacco product placement ordinance in her county, helping ensure tobacco products were placed behind the counter. She has been very active in efforts to restore funding for Florida’s once highly successful tobacco prevention program and has met with her State Representatives on many occasions. Erin currently serves as the liaison between SWAT and Ignite Florida, the state chapter of the new national anti-tobacco youth movement, and is working with interested SWAT members to educate them about their role as independent advocates on policy issues in Florida, particularly prevention funding.

Central Region: Ashley Shultz, 16, of Waller, TX, is a junior at Waller High School. She founded the local SWAT (Students Working Against Tobacco) Team and has led the group for the past two years. Ashley has recruited both youth advocates and adult community leaders to contribute to SWAT's efforts. Ashley's SWAT Team focuses its efforts on tobacco prevention and education, as well as supporting tobacco control policy initiatives and cessation programs. Ashley is also active at the state level. She serves as a Texas Teen Ambassador for Tobacco Prevention and works closely with the state department of health in developing Texas' statewide youth programs Duck and Worth It.

West Region: Thania Balcorta, 16, of Davis, CA, is a junior at Da Vinci High School and is the president of her local youth coalition, Youth United for Action Showing Tobacco Ain't Right (YUFA STAR). She is a council member for Friday Night Live, an alcohol and tobacco prevention organization, at both the county and state level. Thania has been a member of the California Youth Advocacy Network's youth board of directors for the past two years and is currently a member of the American Legacy Foundation's Youth Advisory Panel.

Group: BOLD Teens, established in 1997, works closely with Tobacco-Free Massachusetts and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids on the 'Restore the Trust' campaign, advocating that tobacco settlement and tobacco tax funds be used to restore funding for Massachusetts’ pioneering tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

BOLD Teens have also worked to establish a 'Tobacco-Free Sales Zone' in Dorchester by generating merchant and public support to eliminate the sale of tobacco in their zip code. They continue to work to advance legislation on the issue and are urging stores to voluntarily stop selling tobacco in their community.

In 1999, BOLD Teens Against Tobacco convinced Boston newspapers to stop accepting tobacco advertisements. BOLD Teens also took part in successful efforts to make Boston and then Massachusetts 100 percent smoke-free and members of the group have testified before the Legislature and met with state senators and representatives.