Navajo Prep student honored for anti-tobacco work

Shiprock teenager wins national award for her work advocating against tobacco use, especially among youth

Joshua Kellogg
Tyra Nicolay poses for a portrait on Tuesday at Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington. Earlier this month, the Navajo Prep junior won the West Region Youth Advocate of the Year award from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
  • Navajo Prep junior Tyra Nicolay was recently awarded the West Region Youth Advocate of the Year.
  • The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids award recognizes people for advocating against tobacco use.
  • The 16-year-old was among five students nationwide honored at a gala on May 17 in Washington, D.C.
  • Nicolay says she started vaping as a freshman, before she knew about the risks e-cigarettes pose.

FARMINGTON — A Navajo Preparatory School student's work to educate her peers about tobacco use and advocate for more regulation of electronic cigarettes has landed her a national award.

Junior Tyra Nicolay, 16, of Shiprock was recently presented with the West Region Youth Advocate of the Year award from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. She earned the award for "leadership in the fight against tobacco," according to a press release issued by the campaign.

She was one of five students nationwide honored during a gala on May 17 in Washington, D.C.

"It means the world to me," Nicolay said of the award.

When she was a freshman at Shiprock High School, Nicolay said another student persuaded her to try an e-cigarette, assuring her that she would only be inhaling harmless water vapor.

Soon after, Nicolay said she began purchasing her own e-cigarette fluid and vaping regularly. But when she transferred to Navajo Prep later in her freshman year, she said she learned about the dangers of e-cigarettes.

At Navajo Prep, Nicolay joined the New Mexico chapter of the anti-tobacco organization Evolvement. During training, Nicolay learned the liquid fluid heated inside e-cigarettes to generate vapor could contain nicotine.

"I was like, 'Oh my gosh, what am I doing?'" Nicolay said. "And the next day, I threw out my e-cigs and all my liquid and said, 'It is time to change.'"

Nicolay became a youth advocate, working to educate her fellow students about tobacco use and campaigning for additional regulations on e-cigarettes use by youth.

She founded an advocacy group at Navajo Prep called Eagles Innovation Effect. The group, along with other nonprofits, attended the Truth Initiative's National Summit on Youth Activism.

During Navajo Prep’s International Week in March, Eagles Innovation Effect organized an event in the gym as part of Kick Butts Day, a national effort by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

At the event, students learned about the damage tobacco can cause, as well as how e-cigarettes and hookahs can create future health problems.

Nicolay believes efforts such as Kick Butts Day contributed to the U.S. Food And Drug Administration's announcement earlier this year that it would extend its authority to include regulation of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe and hookah tobacco.

In December, the teen magazine Seventeen published an article Nicolay wrote about her past e-cigarette use and how she became an advocate against tobacco use.

Navajo Prep teacher Donna Fernandez said she was proud of Nicolay's efforts to win the award.

"I think it’s such an honor because when our students do well, it reflects well on the school," she said.

Right now, Nicolay is working on a project to get the Navajo Nation to ban commercial tobacco use. She said she hopes to meet with Navajo Nation Council delegates to discuss the legislation.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

From left, Donna Fernandez, a teacher at Navajo Preparatory School, talks on Tuesday with Tyra Nicolay, a junior at the school who recently won the West Region Youth Advocate of the Year award from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.