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HH elementary student making strides towards a tobacco free society


When Anastasia Groden of Horsham tried to get some fresh air at a concert she was attending with her mom, she noticed it was polluted with cigarette smoke.

“It was just gross,” the Hatboro-Horsham School District student said with a cringe.

But it was not the last encounter Anastasia will have with cigarettes and the effects they have on the environment, communities and the people in them. She has dedicated herself to promoting a smoke-free environment through initiatives such as Young Lungs At Play. She spent her spring break affixing QR tags to 83 signs in Bucks County. And she is only 8 years old.

“It’s not fair for people that don’t smoke to inhale the smoke. It can still risk their lives as much as it can to people who do smoke,” said the fourth-grader at Blair Mill Elementary School in Horsham.

Anastasia said her passion began with visits to her mom’s work, The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania.

“She knew that I did a lot of work with tobacco and wanted to see how she could help and what she could do. She expressed at a very young age a passion about people not smoking,” said Melissa Groden, Anastasia’s mom.

The spark began around a year ago when Anastasia was 7, but her involvement began when she heard about Young Lungs At Play. The initiative, which is supported by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, is focused on eliminating children’s exposure to secondhand smoke and litter in public parks, playground and other properties.

After hearing of the initiative, there was no stopping Anastasia. Groden said she and her daughter worked through spring break to affix QR tags linking to an informational video to 83 signs throughout Bucks County, from Richland to Falls.

“From that point, she just got really interested in how she could do more,” Groden said.

Anastasia accompanied her mom to Harrisburg to meet with state officials to talk about a comprehensive Clean Air Act. Groden noted that Anastasia had the opportunity to speak with state officials about how tobacco affects kids and their futures.

“As a result of that, she was asked from the American Lung Association to become a member of the Tobacco Resistance Unit, or TRU, and go to World No Tobacco Day (in Lancaster) and introduce Martin Raniowski,” Melissa said. Raniowski is the deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Health Planning and Assessment division.

“He was introducing and handing out awards for the three communities in Southeast Pennsylvania that had achieved the most smoke free park signs, and she was asked (to introduce him) because of the work she’s done,” Groden said.

“It was very cool because he’s very important. It makes me feel good inside because smoking is a very bad thing,” Anastasia said.

Although Anastasia is only 8, she urges other children to get involved as well. She noted that the Tobacco Resistance Unit, in which she is an ambassador because she is too young to be a member, is a great spot to start.

TRU is a statewide movement to help kids ages 12 to 18 stay tobacco and nicotine free. “It’s time that young Pennsylvanians get serious about exposing big tobacco and its marketing lies. TRU aims to educate, prevent, and stop teen tobacco use,” according to the TRU website.

“Even though I’m not in the age range, I can still be involved because one day, I will be in that age range,” Anastasia said.

In the future, Anastasia says she hopes to get more people from her school and the district involved in TRU, and while she has been doing a majority of her work in Bucks County, her mother noted that she wants to “move the show into Montgomery County.”

“I’m so proud, when she first got involved, it was a daughter helping her mom out. She’s taken it to such a different level than I thought it would be,” Groden said.

“Just seeing her in Harrisburg, I can just sit back and think, ‘That’s my kid.’ Not only is this my little 8-year-old girl, but this is an 8-year-old girl whose doing all of these things. It’s surreal.”

For more information on the TRU, visit their website at



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Tobacco was responsible for about 13,224 deaths in Ontario and 37,209 deaths nationally in 2002
(The Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, 2006).
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