Members of the H.E.A.R.T. Coalition, a statewide substance-abuse prevention organization, have been named Youth Advocates of the Year by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids for their leadership in the fight against tobacco. They will be honored with the Group Award at a gala in the nation’s capital on Thursday, May 15 along with four U.S. regional winners and a national winner.
Cantrell Foster, 18, a senior at North Atlanta High School; Deshanda Smarr, 16, a junior at Carver Health Science and Research; Desha Smarr, 15, a sophomore at Carver School of the Arts; and Joseph Cole, 18, a senior at Carver Health Science and Research will be accepting the award.
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. They gathered signatures for a petition and attended a City Council meeting to inform council members about problems such as secondhand smoke and cigarette butt litter that tobacco was causing in community parks. With the help of a city councilwoman, 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.
More than 400 public health, political, civic and business leaders will attend the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ 18th annual gala in Washington, D.C., to recognize these young leaders. The winners will receive educational scholarships and grants to continue their prevention efforts. They also serve as ambassadors for Tobacco-Free Kids.
“We are thrilled to honor the H.E.A.R.T. Coalition as our group winner,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Young leaders like them are crucial in the fight to make tobacco history and end this epidemic for good. With their help, we can create the first tobacco-free generation.”
Without urgent action to reduce smoking, 5.6 million U.S. children alive today will die prematurely from smoking-caused disease, according to the latest Surgeon General’s report on tobacco and health. That includes 204,000 children in Georgia alone.
In Georgia, tobacco use claims 10,300 lives and costs $3.2 billion in health care bills each year. Currently, 17 percent of the state’s high school students smoke. Nationally, tobacco use kills more than 480,000 people and costs the nation at least $289 billion in health care bills and other economic losses each year.