HORSHAM -- Hatboro-Horsham High School junior Anastasia Groden, 16, is the Tobacco Resistance Unit (TRU) Advocate of the Year. TRU is a movement throughout Pennsylvania to prevent and stop youth tobacco use. Funded by a grant through the Pennsylvania Department of Health, TRU is managed by the Pennsylvania Alliance to Control Tobacco (PACT) and the American Lung Association in Philadelphia.
Groden started working with TRU when she was seven years old and became a TRU Ambassador in 2018 when she turned 12. “My mom works in drug and alcohol prevention so I grew up learning about the dangers of many substances, especially cigarettes.”
A poster in her mom’s office listed the dangerous chemicals in cigarettes such as methane, methanol, ammonia, acetone and arsenic. Even at just seven years old, Groden knew these chemicals were harmful and should not be consumed.
“I immediately began to wonder why more people weren’t talking about this. How could people still start smoking?” asked Groden. “Then my mom told me this wasn’t common knowledge. That’s the moment it hit me; if people knew the truth about tobacco products, they would never start using.”
Groden went to her first Day at the Capitol event that year. The annual event is dedicated to rallying Pennsylvania legislators to maintain state funding for tobacco prevention programs.
“That was the first time I saw other young people advocating against tobacco use,” said Groden. My mom and I immediately went over for more information. Though I was too young to be an official member, they still allowed me to help out and participate in their events.”
When Groden turned 12, she became an official TRU member. One of her first major accomplishments in TRU was when she became one of their first youth ambassadors. Now, her biggest accomplishment is being named Advocate of the Year.
“When I first found out, I immediately told my parents and they were both so proud of me, which made winning the award even better,” said Groden. “This award really made me feel like my voice as an advocate has truly been heard and the work I’ve been doing really matters.”
This year’s Day at the Capitol was held virtually on May 4. TRU members met virtually with legislators across Pennsylvania to discuss the dangers of tobacco use. The event highlighted the importance of Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) funding to continue educational tobacco programs, as well as the Comprehensive Clean Indoor Air Act, which is an updated version of the Clean Indoor Air Act. The updated act would include e-cigarettes and remove all loopholes that businesses exploit to allow smoking indoors.
TRU members participated in a message board, a Clean Indoor Air Act coloring activity, a “Raising the Bar” graph activity. They also wrote emails to legislators and spoke in a community forum.
During the forum, Groden gave a speech about the impact of MSA funding and how it relates to TRU’s educational resources. “TRU has been working to create educational resources for students on how to quit tobacco use and educate on how to help students struggling with nicotine addiction,” said Groden. “The MSA funding is what allows TRU to make these resources and distribute them to schools.”
Groden hopes listeners of her speech understand how vital it is to educate themselves and others on the dangers of tobacco use. “Education is how we will be able to prevent future tobacco use in ourselves and our peers and how we could become the first tobacco free generation,” she said.
Hatboro-Horsham High School students Ava Nociforo, Matthew O’Donnell and Taryn Vuk also participated in the Day at the Capitol and met with multiple legislators. “I received amazing feedback about the three of them and I am so proud,” said Groden. “They are some of my closest friends and to have them working with me on such an important cause means the world.”
Groden plans to work with TRU throughout her senior year and join their alumni program after she graduates. “The work TRU is doing is so incredibly important and I am so lucky to be a part of this group. I cannot wait to continue my work with them in the future,” she said.