Samantha Johnson at 17 already has award-winning experience fighting for a cause: Just saying no to tobacco and smoking.

As a member of Reality Check of Delaware, Schoharie and Otsego counties, she has spoken against smoking and the advertising seen by children and teenagers. She also has urged municipalities to approve tobacco-free parks and smoke-free entryways to buildings.

Johnson is the 2012 state winner of the Youth Advocate of the Year Award sponsored by Reality Check of New York State.

The award honors the outstanding work of youth advocates who have taken a lead in holding the tobacco companies accountable for marketing to youths, a media release said.

"Her initiative, leadership skills, creative thinking and problem-solving make her a model advocate," Becky Yung, project director of Schoharie, Delaware and Otsego counties Reality Check, said in the release. "Samantha is dependable, well-spoken, humble about her successes and very passionate about the program."

Johnson, a five-year member of Reality Check for the three-county area, has worked with local and state legislators, developed many events, taken a lead in recruiting members and was instrumental in passing smoke-free policies for municipal areas, Yung said.

Johnson, who received the honor on Legislative Day, Jan. 24, in Albany, said she was pleased that James Hazzard, a friend from Sharon Springs, presented her with the award.

Hazzard, last year's Regional and State Youth Advocate of the Year winner, is attending Johnson and Wales University in Miami, Fla.

Johnson said she was surprised and excited to receive the award because many qualified teenagers had applied. Regional and honorable-mention winners also were recognized.

Reality Check is a youth-led, adult-supported component of the state Department of Health Tobacco Control Program, which is committed to exposing the truth about the manipulative marketing strategies used by the tobacco industry to target teens, according to the organization's website.

Youth advocate applications are submitted to five judges within the Tobacco Control Program, according to Alison Bruce, program coordinator with Reality Check of Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie counties, and projects are judged on advocacy experience, content, spelling and grammar and overall writing style.

Johnson said she is looking to attend the College of Saint Rose in Albany and study forensic psychology.

Public speaking skills were among the key lessons she learned through Reality Check, Johnson said, and in turn, her presentations at town and county board meetings were her biggest contributions toward the goals of Reality Check.

"I've always been passionate about it," she said. "It's a cause I really believe in."

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