Midlothian teen fights smokeless tobacco products
She serves as president of Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies’ chapter of Mu Alpha Theta, Investment Club and Future Problem Solvers Club. She is an avid participant in Model United Nations, a student ambassador for the governor’s school and senior class secretary.
But what has gained her the most recognition is her role in Y Street, a teen volunteer organization that encourages Virginians to lead healthier lives.
“Judy is amazing,” said Soni Dighe, youth empowerment specialist for Rescue Social Change Group, a business focusing on social change that oversees Y Street. Dighe also works as the manager of Y Street. “She’s been involved with Y Street since she was a freshman.”
Hou, a 17-year-old senior from Midlothian, has been instrumental in Y Street’s Meltdown campaign. The program focuses on how companies are marketing smokeless and spit-free tobacco products like Camel Snus and Camel Orbs.
Hou is scheduled to address the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products about Y Street’s findings this weekend.
By using bright-colored packaging and flavors like java and wintergreen, Hou said that companies are trying to trick young consumers into believing the tobacco products aren’t harmful.
“They’re these little packages that you can stick in your pocket,” Hou said. “They look like Tic Tacs.”
As part of the Meltdown campaign, teen volunteers across the state conducted a scientific survey of 8,150 individuals in 210 communities.
“A lot of people, maybe a third, thought it wasn’t tobacco,” Hou said. “A lot of teenagers said based on the packaging alone they would try it.”
The findings of the survey have led Hou to speak at U.S. Food and Drug Administration meetings, news conferences and to give television and radio interviews.
Last year, a FDA news conference was held at the White House to unveil new warning labels for cigarette boxes. Hou asked the first question of the conference, inquiring whether the FDA would consider adding the new labels to smokeless tobacco products as well.
“She’s always had this go-getter attitude,” Dighe said. “It’s a tremendous honor to work with her.”
While Y Street and the Meltdown campaign might be overseen by adults, its mission is determined by teenagers.
“The youth let us know what they want to work on,” said Danny Saggese, director of marketing for the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, which is a state agency under the Virginia Department of Health that works to educate youth on issues like smoking and obesity. It has a contract with Rescue Social Change Group.
Teens involved in Y Street currently number between 1,000 and 1,500. “The youth were concerned that [these products] would be confused with candy or gum.”
“We have to institute both social change and legislative change,” Hou said. “We need to show that smoking isn’t cool.”
Hou has been accepted to Princeton, where she wants to study Operations Research and Financial Engineering. She would also like to create a student club to further her antitobacco advocacy.
“She’ll be the president of something someday,” Saggese said. “She’s nothing short of a superstar.”
More about Y Street
What it is: A teen volunteer organization that encourages Virginians to lead healthier lives.