December 3, 2010
By Yael Goldman
Saratoga Today

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Samantha Ronca is the first young person in Saratoga County to receive the Outstanding Youth Leadership Award in the history of Tobacco Control Partners of the Southern Adirondacks’ seven-year community recognition program.

She was among the 55 individuals, businesses, organizations, schools and municipalities from Saratoga, Warren and Washington Counties recognized for their commitment to adopting tobacco-free policies and investing in the region’s health. The awards were presented during the 7th Annual Community Recognition Ceremony held on Thursday, December 2 at Longfellows Restaurant in Saratoga Springs.

The partnership (comprised of four groups: Tobacco-Free Schools, Glens Falls Hospital Smoking Cessation Center, Southern Adirondack Tobacco-Free Coalition and Reality Check, which Ronca is involved with) honors the people who advocate for healthy lungs.

According to Janine Stuchin, Project Manager of the Southern Adirondack Tobacco-Free Coalition, the partnership has two main goals: to realize a reduction in the youth onset of tobacco, which means fewer smokers picking up the habit in the first place, and an increase in the number of adults who attempt quitting.

As a youth advocate, Ronca’s stand-out mission pushes the former.

Through her involvement in Reality Check (a youth action program that seeks to “de-glamorize and de-normalize tobacco use and expose the manipulative, deceptive marketing practices of the tobacco industry”), the outstanding activist launched an engaging campaign to teach her peers about the horrors of smoking.

For her, the most effective way to shut out the tobacco industry’s popularity is by making it unpopular to the younger and more impressionable generation. If youth are easily influenced to smoke, then shouldn’t they be similarly compelled not to?

Ronca focused on the positive; she gave presentations, spoke at public and school events, and passed around petitions to get her peers involved.

“I think we’ve been successful, but we still have a lot more work,” Ronca said, implying that the award provides new found motivation for strengthening her mission.

Now, even after she’s graduated from Ballston Spa High School and moved on to her studies at Fulton Montgomery Community College, Ronca remains dedicated to the cause – so much that Rowland and her associates chose her as the first Outstanding Youth Leadership award recipient.

“She has done a wonderful job and has really become a spokesperson for Reality Check,” said Lauren Rowland, Reality Check Regional Director.

A large number of Ronca’s fellow community advocates were also recognized at last week’s ceremony – in fact, the partnership handed out a record number of awards.

The honorees include Girl Scouts of NENY, Galway Public Library, Children’s Academy of Malta, Moreau State Park, eight medical practices, Town of Ballston Community Library, Saratoga Springs City School District, WSWHE BOCES and Saratoga County Animal Shelter.

As for the rest of those recognized, their efforts range from property owners who have instituted smoke-free grounds to medical practices that now consistently and effectively work with patients who smoke, to school districts that developed comprehensive policies for all visitors and students.

“What makes the program so effective is that it integrates all aspects of community: education centers, medical centers and housing…all the places that people work, play and learn. All across the community, people have joined this campaign to reduce the harm of second-hand and first-hand smoke,” Stuchin said.

“These people go out on a limb for us,” Rowland said. “People aren’t always so appreciative of tobacco control measures, but these groups take it upon themselves to help.”

For more information about Reality Check or to get involved, contact Lauren Rowland at (518) 885-8995.