Martinsville teen named national ambassador

Two Virginia students have been named as National Youth and Young Adult Ambassadors by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids for demonstrating leadership in fighting tobacco use in their communities.

Ethan Thomas is among the 133 youth and young adults from 33 states who participated in the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ Digital Advocacy Symposium, a five-day online training session focused on building advocacy, communications and leadership skills.

Thomas, 16, of Martinsville, is an incoming high school senior. He has been fighting tobacco in his community for 5 years, locally with his group Communities Helping Improve Local Lives (CHILL). As an Ambassador, Ethan will strive to spread awareness on tobacco control issues in his community and broaden his audience for continued advocacy.

Also among the Youth and Young Adult Ambassadors from Virginia is Erin Shaffer, 15, of Mechanicsville, an incoming high school junior. She has been involved in tobacco control and prevention with the local group 7thUP for one year. As an Ambassador, Shaffer will draw on her personal experiences with the toll of tobacco within her own family to educate her peers and motivate her community to stay tobacco-free.

“We are thrilled to welcome this new class of Youth and Young Adult Ambassadors, whose passion and leadership will help us create the first tobacco-free generation,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Young people are critical voices in the fight against tobacco because they speak from experience about how they are targeted by the tobacco industry. Policy makers should listen and support strong policies to protect our kids, including a prohibition on all flavored tobacco products.”

The Youth and Young Adult Ambassadors will work with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to advocate for effective policies to reduce youth tobacco use at the federal, state and local levels. These policies include ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes that are addicting a new generation of kids.

While the United States has greatly reduced youth smoking, use of e-cigarettes among young people has skyrocketed in recent years. From 2017 to 2019, e-cigarette use more than doubled among high school students (to 27.5 percent) and tripled among middle school students (to 10.5 percent), according to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey. More than 5.3 million kids used e-cigarettes 2019 – an increase of more than 3 million in two years. Sweet flavors like gummy bear, mint and mango have fueled the popularity of e-cigarettes among kids.

Other flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, are also popular among youth. The tobacco industry has a long history of targeting kids, Black Americans and other groups with marketing for menthol cigarettes and other flavored products, with devastating consequences. More than half of all youth smokers today – including seven out of ten Black youth smokers – smoke menthol cigarettes.

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing approximately 480,000 people and costing about $170 billion in health care bills each year.

In Virginia, 6.5 percent of high school students smoke traditional cigarettes, while 11.8 percent use e-cigarettes. Tobacco use claims 10,300 lives in Virginia each year.

The Youth and Young Adult Ambassadors were selected through a competitive application process and participated in the Digital Advocacy Symposium to become powerful advocates for change. In addition to gaining advocacy and communications skills, these young leaders learned about how tobacco use is a social justice issue because of tobacco-related health disparities due to the tobacco industry’s longtime targeting of minority populations.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is the leading advocacy organization working to reduce tobacco use and its deadly consequences in the United States and around the world. Through strategic communications and policy advocacy campaigns, Tobacco-Free Kids promotes the adoption of proven solutions that are most effective at reducing tobacco use and save the most lives. Learn more at


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