Sixteen-year-old Erin Sylvester has been active in preventing teen tobacco use since middle school. All her hard work is finally paying off, but Erin says her fight against big tobacco isn't over just yet.
She's only 16, but Erin Sylvester has already co-starred in a truth television commercial, passed a county-wide product placement an ordinance to keep tobacco products from the sight of children, and became the leader of the statewide organization SWAT, or Students Working Against Tobacco.
All her hard working hasn't gone unnoticed. Tuesday night in Washington, DC, Erin was named South Regional Youth Advocate of the Year by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
"It all just set in in the past 48 hours that this is very neat," says Erin Sylvester.
While in D.C. Erin lobbied for a federal bill to change how tobacco products are regulated.
"Right now Congress regulates tobacco. It's hard to change things. Would be easier to manipulate if the FDA regulated tobacco products," says Sylvester.
Here in Florida, the Arnold High School junior is fighting for more tobacco prevention funding among other things.
"Actually talking amid state members about cigarette taxes. Raising taxes and using the money for health care cost of tobacco users or prevention. It's all just a dream right now. We'll see."
But many of Erin's dreams have already come true and she says it's all because she took on a cause that saves lives.
"We have this saying, 'you can't save a life by joining the chess club,' and you really can't. SWAT is something you see immediate results from. You know you're touching lives," says Sylvester.
It took Erin three years to get Bay County commissioners to pass a product placement ordinance for all tobacco products in convenient stores.
On May 20, Erin and other local SWAT members will be checking all Bay County stores to see if they're in compliance with the ordinance. It seems an advocate's work is never done.