Our annual Youth Advocates of the Year Awards honor top youth leaders in the fight against tobacco. These teens have advocated for tobacco prevention policies, taken on the tobacco industry and its deceptive marketing, and helped keep peers tobacco-free.

Each May, we honor youth leaders with the following awards at our annual Youth Advocates of the Year Awards Gala.


Meet our 2019 Winners


Barrie Fiske National Youth Advocate of the Year


Sarah Ryan, 18
Holbrook, Massachusetts

There’s one thing Sarah Ryan won’t do: quit. With an unrelenting passion for advocacy and understanding of the nuances of tobacco control, she has become a highly effective advocate at the local, state and national levels.

In her hometown and state, she has advocated for policies to raise the tobacco age to 21, increase tobacco taxes, prohibit tobacco sales in pharmacies and curb the sale of flavored tobacco products.

While just a high school senior, Sarah is already a tobacco control veteran. She has been rallying peers and testifying at local hearings since her freshman year. Many of the policies she pursued took time to enact in the face of tobacco industry opposition and often-hesitant lawmakers. Nevertheless, she persisted, the policies eventually passed, and the public health benefits of her efforts will ripple for years to come.

Sarah continues her state and local work with The 84 Movement Statewide Leadership team, while also becoming a national voice in tobacco prevention. She recently spoke at the U.S. Surgeon General’s press conference on the youth e-cigarette epidemic and published a letter to the editor in The New York Times advocating for a ban on flavored tobacco products including all e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes.

Group Winner


Vikings Kicking Out Tobacco
Sergio Umanzor, 17; Veronica Verango, 15; Zaria Yarbrough, 15; Nicholas McDaniel, 16
Bryan, Texas

Advocates from Vikings Kicking Out Tobacco (VKOT) are proof that a small group can have a big impact. In 2016, the group set out on its mission to protect members of the community from the harmful effects of tobacco by advocating for a smoke-free policy in Bryan, Texas.

By collecting cigarette butts at the city’s parks and highlighting the harmful effects of exposure to secondhand smoke, they developed strong evidence and worked with the Bryan Parks & Recreation department to pass an ordinance prohibiting tobacco use in city parks.

They have since created a strong and united coalition of tobacco control partners, community members and city health department officials to advocate for a comprehensive smoke-free policy in Bryan.

In addition to their effective local advocacy, VKOT members also partnered with other youth organizations to advocate at the state capitol for a statewide law raising the tobacco age to 21. The group plans to continue advocating for the health of the community and fighting for the first tobacco-free generation.

Youth Advocates of the Year


Sachit Gali, 17
Sarasota, Florida

Sachit Gali was inspired to fight the tobacco industry after seeing his uncle undergo open heart surgery following decades of tobacco use. Realizing that effective advocacy stems from unity and numbers, he has worked to recruit, train and empower hundreds of youth advocates in Florida to speak out against the industry and advocate for tobacco control policies.

As Chair of the Tobacco-Free Partnership of Sarasota County and statewide Chair of Students Working Against Tobacco, Sachit has spoken with policymakers and organized community events to rally support for tobacco-free school policies, tobacco retailer licensing, raising the tobacco age to 21 and banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.

Sachit has also advocated for tobacco control policies on Capitol Hill as a National Youth Ambassador for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. He collected signatures for a nationwide petition to ban menthol cigarettes and was a national youth spokesperson for the 2019 Kick Butts Day television and radio tour that aired on more than 400 stations across the country.


Kellen Kruk, 18
Lufkin, Texas

Inspired by his mother and peers who are also involved in anti-tobacco advocacy, Kellen Kruk blazed his own path by becoming a leading voice in the push to raise the tobacco age to 21 in Texas and in his hometown of Lufkin.

Whether it’s speaking at press conferences, testifying at committee hearings, conducting media interviews or meeting with local businesses, Kellen is remarkably effective at communicating the public health benefits that would result from enacting Tobacco 21.

In a state where such legislation was considered a longshot not long ago, Kellen has had to overcome his fair share of adversity and rejection. But thanks in part to his advocacy and dedication, a Tobacco 21 bill is working its way through the Texas Legislature this session.

At his school, Kellen founded the Timberwolves Against Tobacco, SayWhat! Tobacco prevention group that educates peers about the harmful effects of tobacco and encourages them to be tobacco-free. As a National Youth Ambassador for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Kellen traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate against efforts to undermine FDA’s ability to regulate tobacco products.


Madison Langer, 18
Vancouver, Washington

Offered an e-cigarette by her best friend when she was just 15, Madison Langer used e-cigarettes for a year before learning about their harmful effects. Armed with this new information, she quit using e-cigarettes and made it her mission to educate her peers to help them avoid the same mistake.

As a member of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention, she works as a peer educator to help youth recover from their substance abuse, while also training over 70 youth to become effective tobacco control advocates.

Madison bravely shares her personal story with peers, lawmakers and the media to advocate for effective policies. She has testified before the state Legislature in support of raising the tobacco age to 21 and appeared in a video with the bill’s champion, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. When Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed the bill into law, Madison spoke at the signing event.

Madison’s story has helped make her a powerful advocate, and she encourages her peers to share their own stories to demonstrate how the tobacco industry targets youth.


Aditi Venkatesh, 17
San Jose, California

Aditi Venkatesh’s dedication to anti-tobacco advocacy stems from her commitment to improving her community. As Juul and e-cigarettes became the most commonly used tobacco products among her peers, that concern propelled her into an effective advocate at the national, state and local levels.

As a member of the California Youth Advocacy Network (CYAN) Board of Directors, Aditi planned Youth Quest 2018; she trained and led over 300 students at a rally at California’s State Capitol, where she spoke with lawmakers about how tobacco companies target youth with flavors and new products like Juul. She also works daily at Stanford University creating materials to help educators around the world teach their students about tobacco control.

Demonstrating media savvy, Aditi spoke at a press conference in Sacramento supporting the local prohibition on flavored tobacco products and testified at statewide and local hearings in support of flavor bans. She served as the youth spokesperson for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ 2018 Broken Promises report calling on states to better fund tobacco prevention programs.

As a Tobacco-Free Kids National Youth Ambassador, Aditi has also advocated for national policy change.

Last updated May 28, 2019.