Youth Advocates of the Year: Meet… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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Our Youth Advocates of the Year Awards honor top young leaders from across the country — individuals who have fought hard to promote tobacco prevention legislation, expose tobacco marketing to kids and keep peers from using tobacco.

Meet our 2019 Winners

Youth Champion

Sara Kay, 18
 Honolulu, Hawaii

Sara is a fierce advocate for policies to reduce tobacco use. The issue is personal for her – she lost her grandmother, a nonsmoker, to lung disease likely caused by exposure to secondhand smoke. Due in part to Sara’s advocacy efforts, the City and County of Honolulu passed a law prohibiting smoking in cars with kids (the measure applies to the entire island of Oahu). Sara has also pushed for a similar statewide law, contacting lawmakers and testifying before the Legislature in support of the proposal.

As a leader in the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii’s Youth Council, Sara has also worked to strengthen Hawaii’s statewide law prohibiting tobacco sales to anyone under 21. She demonstrated the need to restrict youth online access to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, resulting in the introduction of legislation to do so.

The Coalition for a Tobacco-free Hawaii recognized Sara’s efforts by naming her the 2017 Alaka‘i Outstanding Advocate of the Year.

In addition to her tobacco control work, Sara is an advocate for opportunities in STEM fields for young women. She will study biomedical engineering and public health at Dartmouth University with the goal of improving early detection of lung cancer.

Group Winner

Tijay Daniels, 18
Harmony Ellerbe, 18
Sydney Grimes, 18
Jada Rasulallah, 17
Jasmine Rasulallah, 18
Marquita Young, 17
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

#RealTalkTobacco has one huge goal: to make Philadelphia the first city with a youth smoking rate of zero percent. The group, which is part of the Health Promotion Council’s Advocacy Institute, uses community pop-up events, public service announcements, spoken word poetry and murals to creatively educate their peers about Big Tobacco and advocate for effective policies.

#RealTalkTobacco is currently advocating for tobacco-free pharmacies and a ban on flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, in Philadelphia. They organized a silent "Zombie Walk" to a downtown Walgreens to symbolize the dangers of smoking and protest the pharmacy chain’s continued sale of tobacco products.

Members of the group also testified at City Council hearings in support of proposals by the Philadelphia Department of Health to reduce the availability of tobacco products. The Board of Health ultimately passed an ordinance that limits the number of tobacco retailers per capita and restricts the sale of tobacco products near schools.

#RealTalkTobacco is committed to fighting tobacco use in pursuit of social justice and trains diverse and powerful youth in Philadelphia to become effective advocates and leaders.

Youth Advocates of the Year

Michelle Li, 18
 Ballwin, Missouri

As a child, Michelle learned about the harmful consequences of smoking while visiting relatives in Hunan, China. She breathed air thick with tobacco smoke, heard her uncle beg her father to bring him American cigarettes, and watched her beloved grandfather develop lung cancer and later die from the disease.

Back at home, Michelle became an advocate for proven policies to reduce tobacco use. Michelle was a leader in the successful campaign to raise the tobacco age to 21 in St. Louis, where she served as the sole youth representative on the Tobacco 21 STL Metro Coalition.

Michelle is also a chair and founding member of the T21 Rangers, a national youth coalition committed to raising the tobacco age, and has presented on the topic at national conferences. Michelle has also pushed state lawmakers to make the Missouri Capitol building smoke-free and to increase the tobacco tax. As chair of education and training for Tobacco-Free Missouri Youth, Michelle plans an annual statewide youth summit and trains peers to be successful tobacco control advocates. Michelle will attend Cornell University.

Brooklyn Larimore, 18
 Bellevue, Nebraska 

Brooklyn is an accomplished tobacco control advocate who serves as co-chair of No Limits Nebraska (the state’s youth-led movement against tobacco), the only youth Executive Board member of the Metro Omaha Anti-Tobacco Coalition, an advocate with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and a two-time National Youth Ambassador with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. She took on the issue when she saw the toll tobacco was taking on friends and family.

As co-chair of No Limits Nebraska, Brooklyn advocates at the local, state and national levels for policies that reduce tobacco use. Locally, she presented to the Omaha City Council on the need to make parks tobacco-free. Brooklyn has also testified before the Nebraska Legislature in support of raising the tobacco age to 21 and increasing the tobacco tax.

On a national level, Brooklyn met with members of Congress from Nebraska to urge their support for strong FDA regulation of e-cigarettes and cigars.

Brooklyn is also outspoken against Big Tobacco’s targeting of youth and took part in a protest at the Altria shareholders meeting in Richmond, Virginia. She will attend the University of Nebraska Omaha.

Eunice Namkoong, 18
 Yorktown, Virginia

Eunice got involved with tobacco prevention when she saw classmates using e-cigarettes in school bathrooms and wondered if her peers knew the risks of these products. A scientist at heart, Eunice surveyed her fellow students about their tobacco knowledge – and proved her hypothesis.

To fix this problem, Eunice set out to strengthen her school district’s tobacco-free policy, advocating for a "24/7" (all day, every day) policy on all campuses. She became an active member of the youth-led group Y Street, part of the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, to give herself a larger platform and access to more resources. Eunice’s fight took four long years, but her school district finally implemented a 24/7 smoke-free policy that includes e-cigarettes.

Eunice has broadened her focus to make other schools in Virginia smoke-free as well. She presented at the Virginia School Board Association, spoke with Governor Ralph Northam at a statewide tobacco conference and testifi ed in support of a statewide tobacco-free schools bill.

As a two-time Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids National Youth Ambassador, Eunice has also advocated for national policy change, calling for strong FDA regulation of e-cigarettes and cigars. Eunice will attend John Hopkins University.

Gabrielle Kennedy, 18
 Puckett, Mississippi

Growing up, Gabby saw family members using tobacco and became especially committed to fighting tobacco use when her grandfather died of lung cancer. In high school, she joined Generation FREE, Mississippi’s youth-led tobacco prevention program, with the goal of educating her peers about the dangers of tobacco use.

Gabby has focused on strengthening smoke-free laws in her town to better protect citizens and visitors from secondhand smoke, regularly presenting at town hall meetings and community events.

On a state level, Gabby testified before the Mississippi Legislature in support of a $1.50 tobacco tax increase. As a National Youth Ambassador for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Gabby traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for strong FDA oversight of e-cigarettes and cigars.

Gabby has also planned and led Generation FREE’s annual youth conferences across Mississippi and led three trainings of Tobacco-Free Kids’ Taking Down Tobacco program, reaching nearly 100 youth.

Gabby’s biggest accomplishment in her fight against tobacco may be one that took place at home: she convinced both of her parents to quit smoking for good. In a small southern town where, in her words, "tobacco is as vital as oxygen," Gabby is challenging local norms and pushing for lifesaving policy change. She will attend Baylor University.