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United Health Group

For Youth Advocates

Youth Advocates of the Year

Our Youth Advocates of the Year Awards honor top young leaders in the fight against tobacco — individuals who have advocated for tobacco prevention policies, taken on the tobacco industry and its deceptive marketing and helped keep peers tobacco-free. In May of each year, we honor a National winner, a Military Youth winner and four Regional winners (East, South, Central and West).

Meet our 2014 Winners

National Youth Advocate of the Year

Magi Linscott, 17
Pace, Florida

Magi joined her county’s chapter of the statewide Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) program as a freshman. She first learned about the devastating effects of tobacco when her grandmother died of a tobacco-related disease.
To reduce tobacco use among her peers, Magi successfully worked to pass a countywide K-12 Comprehensive Tobacco Policy that bans tobacco use on school grounds and at school-sanctioned events off campus. She has also advocated for Florida counties to pass resolutions supporting a ban on candy-flavored tobacco. Over the past year, Magi has tapped into the power of social media to promote Florida’s new “Not a Replacement” tobacco prevention campaign. Youth are encouraged to send “selfie statements” to tobacco companies – photos of themselves with handwritten signs telling Big Tobacco that they are not replacement smokers, but individuals.

Partnering with AmeriCorps and United Way, Magi also led a community “Tobacco-Free Farm Share” “that provided five tons of free food to people in need in Santa Rosa County. No smoking or tobacco use was allowed at the event, and Magi made sure recipients also went home with tobacco prevention and cessation materials. More than 2,000 people attended and 1,200 families received food.

Group Winner

The H.E.A.R.T. Coalition
Deshanda Smarr, 16; Desha Smarr, 15; Cantrell Foster, 18; Joseph Cole, 18
Atlanta, Georgia

The H.E.A.R.T. Coalition has raised awareness of and taken action against tobacco throughout Atlanta and in the African-American community in particular.

Last year, the group led a successful campaign for a tobacco-free parks ordinance. First, they gathered signatures for a petition, which they presented at three town hall meetings. Later, they attended a City Council meeting and informed council members about problems such as secondhand smoke and cigarette butt litter that tobacco was causing in community parks. The youth then identified and partnered with a city councilwoman who championed the cause. With her help, the ordinance passed with unanimous support.  The H.E.A.R.T. Coalition has since conducted surveys and continued to educate the community on the benefits of smoke-free parks.

In addition, the group has created displays with tobacco facts and counter-marketing posters for area malls. They also organized World No Tobacco Day and Great American Smokeout events to call attention to tobacco industry marketing to African Americans and promote the Georgia tobacco quit line.

Their next goals include working on a countywide smoke-free ordinance and fighting tobacco marketing in the African American community.

East Region Youth Advocate of the Year

Devan Ogburn, 16
Upper Marlboro, Maryland

Devan is passionate about tobacco control because many of her relatives are tobacco users. For the past two years, she has served as President of the Maryland Association of Student Councils and has used that position to be a leader in fighting tobacco use. She has led efforts in support of the Healthy Maryland Initiative, a campaign to increase the state tobacco tax by $1 per pack and fund tobacco prevention and health care initiatives. She has conducted workshops and presentations to her peers and subsequently gained the endorsement and support of all local Student Council Associations in the state.

Devan has spoken before the Maryland State Board of Education about the need for youth involvement in tobacco policy change. She has participated in press conferences and testified before the Senate Taxation and Budget Committee.

Central Region Youth Advocate of the Year

Becky Bade, 16
New Bloomfield, Missouri

Becky is a member of the Tobacco-Free Missouri Youth Advisory Board and has been involved in tobacco control since middle school.

She has spoken at City Council meetings in support of smoke-free legislation in the city of Holts Summit – and learned firsthand just how resistant elected officials can be to regulating tobacco.

In 2012, she worked in support of a ballot measure that would have raised Missouri’s very low tax rate on cigarettes and other tobacco products. After the measure’s defeat, she continued fighting the tobacco industry by starting the “Stand Up to Tobacco” campaign, which invited people across the state to share personal stories about how tobacco had affected them. The Youth Advisory Board collected over 2,400 cards from over 80 communities and displayed them during Tobacco-Free Missouri’s Capitol Day.

Becky has also worked to promote awareness of tobacco in schools, organized tobacco-free fairs, led community service initiatives and planned Kick Butts Day events.

South Region Youth Advocate of the Year

Chandler Ash, 17
Archer, Florida

Chandler got involved in fighting tobacco in middle school through Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) after watching his grandfather struggle with his tobacco addiction.

He set a goal of reducing youth tobacco use in his county, and much of his advocacy work has revolved around the problem of fruit- and candy-flavored tobacco products. As a result of Chandler’s work to educate his county commissioners, the County Commission passed an ordinance requiring all candy-flavored tobacco to be placed behind the counter, out of the sight and reach of children. The Commission also passed a resolution recommending that tobacco retailers refrain from selling candy-flavored tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes.

Last summer, Chandler led a group of youth advocates to speak with U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, Senator Marco Rubio’s staff, and Representative Ted Yoho about the problem of candy- and fruit-flavored cigars.

West Region Youth Advocate of the Year

Spencer Flanders, 15
Carson City, Nevada

Spencer Flanders has been involved in fighting tobacco since the 6th grade through his local group, Students Taking on Prevention (STOP). He is now the group’s president. Spencer became passionate about the issue when he learned tobacco companies target young people like him. He approaches anti-tobacco advocacy as a social justice issue.
Spencer successfully worked to get his county to adopt a smoke-free parks policy, identifying the problem, building support and assembling a coalition that was instrumental in the adoption of the policy. He first organized a group of his peers to pick up cigarette butts in local parks. He then met with the Douglas County Parks and Recreation board to present his findings. As a result, the Director of Parks enthusiastically supported the policy change at the County Commission.

Spencer is currently leading a campaign to encourage local businesses to institute smoke-free entrances.

Meet our 2013 Winners

National Youth Advocate of the Year
Tyler Long, Fletcher, NC, 18

A senior at Asheville High School and the grandson of a tobacco farmer, Tyler heard mixed messages about tobacco use while growing up. To help his peers understand its dangers, he started a Teens Against Tobacco Use (TATU) club at his middle school. Today he is president of his high school's chapter.

Tyler is a youth leader in North Carolina's statewide tobacco prevention program, Tobacco Reality Unfiltered (TRU), and he has worked to defend the program from budget cuts. He regularly conducts advocacy trainings and twice a year runs the TRU fair where he educates middle school students about tobacco use. He also played a leading role in ending tobacco sponsorship of Bele Chere, a major music and arts festival in Asheville.

Group Winner
Show-Me PALS of Missouri

Show-Me PALS (People Advocating Living Smoke-free) engages youth activists across Missouri. Members of the Youth Advisory Board have worked in their communities and schools to protect others from secondhand smoke, provide cessation services to English-as-a-Second-Language residents, build support for tobacco-free school grounds and other community policies to reduce tobacco use, and plan creative activities to promote a tobacco-free lifestyle.

To empower Missouri youth to stand up to tobacco, the members of the Youth Advisory Board have presented at national and statewide conferences, led Missouri youth in supporting a 2012 ballot initiative to increase the state tobacco tax and planned and implemented an advocacy day at the state Capitol.

The Youth Advisory Board members are: Becky Bade, 15, of New Bloomfield; Alyssa Bradley, 15, of New Bloomfield; Daniel Giuffra, 17, of Chesterfield; and Madison Kellums, 16, of Arbyrd.

Eastern Regional Youth Advocate of the Year
Brittani Jones, Dorchester, MA, 18

Brittani is a senior at Boston Trinity Academy. She first became involved in the fight against tobacco because her grandmother smoked and struggled to quit. After joining Breath of Life Dorchester (BOLD Teens), a peer leadership group, Brittani was chosen to serve on the statewide leadership team of The 84, a youth-led movement fighting for a tobacco-free generation in Massachusetts. The name refers to the fact that 84 percent of high school students in Massachusetts choose to be tobacco-free.

Brittani was a key planner of The 84's Kick Butts Day event this year; she and her peers marched to the State House and urged state legislators to support a proposed $1 cigarette tax increase. She also led a statewide training with 200 youth participants.

Southern Regional Youth Advocate of the Year
Magi Linscott, Pace, FL, 16

Magi is a junior at Pace High School. After tobacco use caused her grandmother's death, Magi joined SWAT (Students Working against Tobacco) during her freshman year and is now an officer on the organization's statewide Youth Advocacy Board.

Magi has worked to get local governments in her county to pass resolutions opposing the sale of candy-flavored tobacco, convincing all but one city to adopt such resolutions. She has met with state legislators to speak about her advocacy work and involvement in SWAT and has led five county trainings, reaching over 200 youth. She has also designed several thought-provoking activities for her peers, including one called "The Deadly Package" that focuses on how the design, colors and shape of tobacco products target specific demographics.

Western Regional Youth Advocate of the Year
Darrien Skinner, Ingleside, TX, 18

Darrien is a senior at Ingleside High School and became involved in the fight against tobacco as a freshman through Students against Destructive Decisions (SADD). He works as an advocate with the Texas Teen Ambassadors (TTA) program and has presented at the state's regional tobacco summits and statewide conferences. He has also met with his state legislators to advocate for a statewide smoke-free air law in Texas.

Last summer, he represented Texas at the National Conference on Tobacco or Health in Kansas City, where he helped plan and implement an activism event in support of Missouri's ballot initiative to raise the tobacco tax. He has organized multiple Kick Butts Day events and trains his peers on how to meet with legislators and advocate for causes they believe in.

Central Regional Youth Advocate of the Year
Joanna Hejl, Lincoln, NE, 15

Joanna is a freshman at Lincoln High School, where she started a club to inform her peers about the tobacco industry's deceptions. She helps lead regional trainings across the state on community activism and tobacco-free parks.

Joanna is also a board member of the statewide movement, No Limits Nebraska. In this role, she helped lead the lobby day training for their large Kick Butts Day event, during which kids from across the state met with legislators to talk about the importance of fighting tobacco use. She is also involved in planning the No Limits Summer Summit, a training program for teen activists. Joanna is also working to increase Nebraska's tobacco tax and ensure that all cigars are regulated by the FDA.

Joining Forces Award for Youth Advocacy
Alexander Higginbotham, Odessa, MO, 16

Alex is a junior at Odessa High School, and his father is a Navy commander. Alex is involved with Smokebusters/Show-Me PALS (People Advocating Living Smoke-free) in Missouri and serves as the group's vice president. He also recruited 28 youth and founded Odessa's first chapter of Students with a Goal (SWAG).

Alex has mobilized his peers and engaged his city council in support of smoke-free air policies. This fall, he recorded two radio public service announcements and created a Halloween-themed campaign in support of Missouri's ballot initiative to raise the tobacco tax. As Vice President of Show-Me PALS, Alex led the youth training portion and spoke at the Tobacco-Free Missouri Capitol Day rally.