Hattie Simon of Old Orchard Beach has won a youth advocate award from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids for her efforts toward making Old Orchard Beach a smoke-free zone.
In response to a petition submitted by Simon and two other local teens, last fall the Old Orchard Beach Town Council agreed to put up signs encouraging people not to smoke on the beach. This policy fell shy of Simon’s original goal, however, which was to get the council to ban smoking completely on the beach.
Simon is a 15-year-old sophomore at Thornton Academy in Saco and will be attending a youth advocate gala in Washington, D.C., in May. As part of the award, Simon has also received a $2,500 scholarship and a $500 grant. In addition to being recognized by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Simon is also an inaugural member of the Maine Youth Action Network’s new youth leaders alliance program.
Participants are selected for the youth leaders initiative for their dedication to making positive impacts in their communities and their potential to become role models and future leaders.
Simon comes to her stance against smoking honestly. Her mother, Toby Simon, is a tobacco control and policy specialist, who has also provided tobacco addiction treatment.
Simon was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, but has lived in Maine since she was “very small.” She said it’s a “personal choice” to attend Thornton Academy instead of Old Orchard Beach High School.
The communities of Saco and Old Orchard Beach now belong to the same school district and some students have been allowed by school administrators to attend TA.
Simon spoke with the Sun Chronicle this week about her tobacco-free advocacy and her plans for the future
Q: Why did you think it was so important for the Old Orchard Beach Council to adopt a tobacco-free beach policy?
A: This is an important policy to adopt because of the critical issue of outdoor secondhand smoke exposure on the beach, and the danger of tobacco litter to the environment, animals and small children. This is an important public health issue, and I’d like to see our beaches at Old Orchard Beach be more family friendly.
Q: Were you involved with any other tobacco-free efforts before that?
A: This is the first initiative that I’ve taken on personally, but I’ve been involved with the Maine Youth Action Network’s Annual Anti-Tobacco Summit since I was in middle school.
Q: Does anyone in your family smoke?
A: I never had the chance to meet my grandparents or one of my aunts. All three of them were smokers and they died early, all from illnesses that were probably tobacco related.
Q: What would you tell your peers about smoking?
A: Don’t do it! I want to encourage all youth to stay away from tobacco, and I want to educate them about how the tobacco industry targets youth. The tobacco industry sees youth as replacement smokers for the close to a half-million people who die every year from tobacco- related illnesses.
Q: Have you ever been to Washington, D.C., before?
A: Yes. I attended the Junior National Young Leaders Conference in 2009. I’m looking forward to going again, and I’m excited to attend the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ gala awards dinner and meet the other award winners.
Q: Do you know where you’d like to go to college or what you’d like to study?
A: I’m a jazz vocalist and pianist, and I’m hoping to do a jazz performance major in college, along with a second major, which I haven’t decided yet – maybe environmental studies or foreign relations.
Q: What will you use the $500 grant for?
A: I will use the grant money toward new anti-tobacco advocacy efforts. In fact, I’m now hoping to replicate what we did with the tobacco-free beach policy in Old Orchard Beach for beaches in Saco, too.