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FOR RELEASE: May 6, 2004
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Local Student Wins “Youth Advocate of the Year” National Honor

Edmond youth Koorosh Zahrai is in Washington, D.C., this week to receive the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids 2004 Youth Advocate of the Year Award, an annual competition that honors young people who have made outstanding contributions to tobacco use prevention. More than 400 government, public health, civic, and business leaders will attend the Campaign’s ninth annual gala in Washington, D.C., to recognize the young leaders, according to health officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) Tobacco Use Prevention Service.

The advocates to be recognized are chosen as representatives of the four U.S. regions, one national, and one international. The winners receive educational scholarships and grants to continue their tobacco prevention efforts and serve as ambassadors for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. They will attend workshops and training seminars and visit their senators and representatives to promote the tobacco-free campaign.

Koorosh, 17, is the representative for the Central U.S. Region. He is an Edmond resident and 11th grader at Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School in Oklahoma City. He serves as Chairman of Oklahoma SWAT. SWAT is the health department’s statewide youth-led movement to prevent tobacco use among youth, reduce tobacco dependence, and promote smoke-free environments in schools and all areas of public access. Koorosh has been active in SWAT since 1999.

“I want to congratulate Koorosh for his outstanding work with the young people in Oklahoma. His leadership and untiring efforts to motivate young people to stand up for their health against the tobacco industry has helped reduce susceptibility of youth to tobacco use through programs like Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT),” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Crutcher. “Specifically, SWAT is responsible for approximately 20 of 30 schools districts adopting no tobacco use on school property for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That is quite an accomplishment,” Crutcher said.

"These young leaders are making great strides against youth tobacco addiction and their voices are being heard,” said Matthew L. Myers, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids president. “Every day, 2,000 kids in the United States become daily smokers and roughly one-third of them will die prematurely from tobacco-caused disease. Almost 90 percent of adult smokers began at or before the age of 18. Youth are powerful allies in the fight to turn these trends around.”

Current Oklahoma initiatives include: 24/7 - tobacco-free school policies; Breathe Easy - clean indoor air in restaurants and public places; limiting youth access to tobacco; debunking the Hollywood image; street marketing; Operation Exposed: monitoring the tobacco industry; and Spit Out Big Tobacco: a campaign to prevent spit tobacco use. He is currently a member of the Governor's Tobacco Use Prevention & Cessation Advisory Committee.

"I am committed to being a leader in this movement to empower youth to be proactive about their health, particularly when it comes to tobacco use,” Koorosh said. “Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, yet tobacco products are among the most unregulated on the market today! Empowering youth is the cornerstone to building a strong program that educates youth and actively involves youth to confront Big Tobacco about this critical issue, and "Snuff Out" tobacco use."

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