OGDEN -- The young teen sitting in Anna Guymon's tobacco cessation class acted tough and cocky, but once class ended and he asked to speak with his instructor, his attitude quickly changed and he broke into uncontrollable sobs.
The 17-year-old was required to attend the court-ordered class for youths.
Guymon, health educator for the Weber-Morgan Health Department's tobacco prevention and control program, discovered the young man's habit scared him and he desperately wanted to quit.
"He told me he hadn't answered honestly when the class had discussed their personal tobacco use," she said. "He was going through two cans of chew and one pack of cigarettes a day. Combined, this is the nicotine equivalent of about seven packs of cigarettes."
He had no family support, so Guymon told him she would help him the best she could. By the end of the class run, he had cut back his tobacco use significantly.
"Over the last five years, I have heard the stories of suffering and struggle from too many community members to count," she said. "But through all of that there have been some tremendous stories of triumph and hope, especially from youth. These youths refuse to be a target of big tobacco."
Guymon's efforts continue to pay off. She was recently presented with the Public Health Hero Award 2012 by the Utah Public Health Association. Only one award is presented each year for a public health employee.
Heather Borski, director of health promotion with the Utah Department of Health, said Guymon is passionate about tobacco prevention and has a compelling way of making people see that tobacco prevention is a worthwhile cause.
Guymon was born in Brandon, England, and lived throughout the U.S. while her father served in the Air Force. She is the mother of a 15-year-old son, Ty.
Throughout her career, Guymon has been instrumental in finding ways to reach different population groups with tailored educational messages on tobacco prevention, secondhand smoke and free quitting resources. She is proud of the Riverdale Elementary Kids Against Tobacco group that fought to make their park and playground a designated smoke-free area.
"The signs they created are still prominently displayed in the park," she said. "This was prompted by them watching very young children observing people smoking in the park during recess, after which the young children would pick up the discarded cigarette butts and pretend to smoke them. Many of the KAT kids had lost relatives to smoking. Some had lost parents. As role models for their school, they did not want to see their schoolmates and younger children pick up smoking."
Guymon said she always wanted to work in the health field and has always been passionate about the concept of food as medicine.
"Preventing chronic disease and sickness was so appealing because it helps individuals to realize the control they have over their own health, developing a greater sense of self-efficacy, not only for health but in their life overall," she said.
Guymon said she will continue to educate the public about the dangers of tobacco and offer help. She is currently working with a local coalition consisting of concerned citizens, businesses, education institutions and others to address tobacco-related disparities in Weber and Morgan counties.
"Please know there is free support in your community," she said. "Each person can make a positive difference in the world. There can be so much apathy that exists regarding the ability to change the way things are. Being passionate and committed about what you believe in yields priceless personal growth, shared experiences and positive impacts that can be felt throughout communities."