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Local youth battles tobacco

Phoenix High senior Tracy Elsmore wins annual award from the American Cancer Society for her efforts

A local teen who has been rallying against the use of tobacco, especially by kids her own age, has been chosen to receive the annual Speakout! award by the American Cancer Society for the state of Oregon.

Phoenix High School senior Tracy Elsmore was chosen for the award last month, said Southern Oregon prevention and education director Randy Butler, because of her commitment to educate others about reducing the risk of getting cancer through tobacco prevention and healthy lifestyles.

Butler nominated the 17-year-old, a fraternal triplet who lives in Medford, after working with her the past four years on local and regional campaigns, including the organization's signature event, Relay for Life.

Tracy's just been on top, on board, doing workshops, presentations. — She's just really stayed involved in everything, said Butler. To have youth involved like that is instrumental in the fight against cancer.

— Though she began volunteering with the American Cancer Society four years ago, Tracy said her efforts in educating others about the dangers of tobacco began seven years ago, as a sixth-grader at Talent Middle School.

I just learned about it in the classes they give. Everyone thinks, 'Oh you had a grandma or someone die from smoking or some story ... but the weird thing is I don't. I mean, I have family members who smoke and who've had cancer but that's not what got me started. It's just something I feel really strongly about.

Following middle school, Tracy's involvement grew, including working on local education campaigns to establish citywide anti-smoking ordinances in Central Point, one of the first in the state, and in Ashland.

Before her freshman year she traveled to a convention in Seattle representing Tobacco Free Jackson County. Tracy and four other teens then formed R.E.A.L.I.T.Y., a group geared at Relating, Educating and Lowering Influences of Tobacco on Youth. The group organized presentations at some local schools and hosted a two-day event at Hedrick Middle School.

R.E.A.L.I.T.Y. died unfortunately, said Tracy with a laugh. But I wanted to keep working so I stayed with Randy (Butler) and got more involved with ACS.

For regional use, Tracy helped write and edit the American Cancer Society Speakout Youth Coalition Guide and participates on a planning committee for the annual Speakout Summer Summit in Washington for 80 to 100 youths.

Turning 18 on Monday, Tracy said she never expected recognition for her efforts but appreciates the pat on the back.

I haven't done it for any recognition or anything but it was nice to be recognized on a level like that, she said. I was pretty excited when I found out.

The Medford girl plans to continue her work during and after college, where she hopes to major in business management and communications and minor in technical theater. Later this month she will attend a national Relay for Life Youth Summit in Dallas, where she will learn about putting on a local Relay for Life Youth Event to coincide with the annual Relay for Life fund-raiser.

I want to work for ACS, she said. I really do. Obviously, I'm only 18, but I already know so much about the organization and I'd just really love to be able to be involved with something like that for my career. I just feel like it's something really important that I want to stay involved in.

Buffy Pollock is a free-lance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com