Maria Duenas - Warsaw, Kosciusko County

Just a junior in college, Maria Duenas was already a seasoned Indiana tobacco control advocate when she spoke to the Walgreens Board of Directors about the sale of tobacco products. She was a statewide leader in VOICE Indiana, a youth tobacco leadership organization, but her advocacy started locally.

“I became part of Kosciusko Cares my senior year of high school because they needed student leaders for their tobacco-free coalition. Their mission is to strengthen families in the community and provide assistance in any aspect needed.”

Her motivation has multiple roots.

“One of my best friends in high school struggled with the constant need to smoke. I worked alongside many youth, including my best friend, and the majority of them would take smoke breaks. The managers would often join them.”

Her motivation has only deepened as she has learned about how Big Tobacco targets people her age and ethnicity.

“Tobacco is not an equal-opportunity killer. Seventy-two percent of smokers are low income. Big Tobacco puts more retailers in these communities and makes cigarettes cheaper. These are the areas where we must take the most action. We are part of a larger Big Tobacco vision, and we cannot allow ourselves to be manipulated. At this point, I’m angry.”

Maria knows how important Indiana lawmakers and the Governor are in the process of passing stronger tobacco laws, like raising the cigarette tax and expanding local education programs. “This problem has been going on for decades, and there have been efforts to combat it at the national level. Put the bill on the agenda and discuss it because this is an issue that affects everybody, not just one small group of people. This must happen. Thousands of Hoosiers are going to die this year if we don’t act, including infants and non-smoking adults.”

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