Four Atlanta-area high school students were bestowed the “Youth Advocates of the Year” award in Washington, D.C. for their fervent anti-tobacco campaign and helping to pass a no-smoking ordinance in city parks.
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 are members of H.E.A.R.T Coalition, a statewide advocacy organization that works to reduce and prevent the use of tobacco in the city of Atlanta and in the African American community in particular.
Within the past year, the group has been busy undertaking the a successful campaign for a tobacco-free parks ordinance. The four 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, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Spearheaded by a council member, the ordinance passed with unanimous support. The H.E.A.R.T. Coalition are now conducting surveys and educating the community on the benefits of smoke-free parks.
“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.”
Over 400 public health, political, civic and business leaders converged in the District of Columbia for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ 18th annual gala and awards program. The winners will receive educational scholarships and grants to continue their prevention efforts, the GDOPH reported.
The students work is warranted and paramount to the state’s physical and fiscal health. Over 10,300 lives are lost each year and costs $3.2 billion in health care bills annually. According to reports, 17 percent of Georgia 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.
Photo: Georgia Department of Public Health