(WTVR) Chesterfield resident and Maggie Walker high school student Judy Hou joins ranks with a Virginia non-smoking campaign and finds herself in Washington D.C.
Top U.S. health officials have their sights set on preventing tobacco use among youth and they’re bringing the issue front and center.
Thursday, Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin unveiled her latest report on youth and tobacco.
Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults, a nine hundred page document, was released during a news conference in Washington D.C.
Among the crowd was Chesterfield teen Judy Hou, a Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth volunteer.
The group has an initiative that they call “Y Street,” whose goal is to curb youth tobacco use.
Dr. Benjamin says she can use more youth like Judy Hou.
“Their peers will listen to them much quicker than they listen to us” said Dr. Benjamin.
The Surgeon General said her report finds that tobacco use among youth and young adults is an epidemic that she will continue to tackle head on.
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius calls the findings staggering.
"Each and every day more than 3,800 kids under 18 smoke their first cigarette and that’s completely unacceptable,” Sebelius said.
Judy told CBS 6 “I think it's great that they are a shedding light on the fact that 443,000 Americans die every year and it's the single most preventable cause of death.”
The report found more than 600,000 middle school students and 3 million American high schoolers smoke cigarettes.
It also reveals tobacco companies spend about 27 million dollars per day marketing their products in the U.S. alone.
Now, Dr. Benjamin says the push is on to bring more youth in on this national prevention mission, making the work of the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth and Y Street such important state programs.
“We’re going to use social networking, texting, tweeting and getting to where the kids are,” said Benjamin.
“We have to get them that knowledge so that they can have the tools they need to make good healthy choices,” she said.
“I hope it will make us young people more aware and make teens less likely to start smoking” said Hou.
As a part of Thursday’s news conference, Dr. Benjamin announced a video contest for youth and young adults related to tobacco prevention.
She said youth ages 13-17 and young adults 18-25 are encouraged to submit video surrounding the subject.
Specific details on what they’re looking for can be obtained by going to their website.
The entries will be judged and there will be a $1,000 grand prize as well as three $500 runner-up prizes.
For more information on that contest, you can go to the following website: http://www.Challenge.gov.
Henrico-based Altria released a statement which said in part that tobacco companies have been responsible in preventing underage kids from using tobacco products.
The statement issues said We agree with the surgeon general and others that kids should not use tobacco products, and we share the common goal of keeping tobacco products out of the hands of kids