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Class Act / An outstanding young Western New Yorker

When Newfane High School sophomore Stephen Kneeland makes a promise, he keeps it.

The 15-year-old created the winning poster several years ago for Univera Healthcare's 2Smart 2Start smoking-prevention program.

The lessons Stephen learned from 2Smart 2Start have stayed with him.

The teen, who lives in Newfane, plays school sports -- including football, basketball and baseball -- and is also active at home and on his grandparents' farm. He's smoke-free and healthy.

"I do a lot of running and I don't need my breathing to slow me down," said Stephen, referring to the smoke-free pledge card he signed. Back then, as an intermediate school pupil, he and his classmates participated in an interactive theater program as part of 2Smart 2Start, where they learned about making healthy choices, being a leader and not a follower, and not smoking.

"My teacher thought I was good at art, so she encouraged me to enter the 'Why I'm Smoke-Free' mural contest -- but I never expected to win."

Stephen's winning drawing was selected from 158 entries submitted by students from all over Western New York. The contest was organized by Univera in recognition of World No Tobacco Day in May 2003, an annual observance created by the World Health Organization to draw global attention to the widespread prevalence of tobacco use and its negative health effects. As the first place winner, Stephen was supplied with materials to transfer his drawing to a large-scale mural, which was displayed in the main lobby of Newfane Intermediate School.

"Lots of people commented on the poster and I was proud that my idea was displayed in my school," said Stephen.

He still feels it's important for kids to be smoke-free for many reasons including the fact that it wrecks your lungs and can give you cancer. It also ruins your skin, he adds, and makes your teeth yellow.

"I've seen the effects that smoking has had on other kids and know that it's something I'd never do," said Stephen, who is among the more than 126,000 Western New York kids who have signed the smoke-free pledge.

Know a young outstanding Western New Yorker? Tell us about your nomination, including age, date of birth, address and phone number for possible publication in Class Act. Sorry, photos cannot be returned.

E-mail: lcontinelli@buffnews.com

Or write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240.

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