Teen tackles double standard of Mo. lawmakers allowed to smoke in their offices

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ODESSA, Mo. -- When the 2014 session of the Missouri state legislature starts early next month, the lawmakers once again will give themselves a special perk that no other citizen in Missouri has.

The Capitol building is smoke-free for the general public, but the legislators have exempted their own offices from the law. This week's FOX 4 Young Achiever doesn't think that's right, or fair or healthy. So he'll campaign once again to get the lawmakers to make a change.

When you find a young person who is a strong and dedicated advocate for any important cause and combines that with tireless, creative leadership, you take notice. So it is with Odessa High School senior Alex Higginbotham, student body president and crusader against smoking.

"Really what hit me, there's a number," Alex said. "Four hundred and forty thousand is the number. That's how many people die in America every single year due to tobacco. And that's not just absurd, that's horrifying."

At Odessa High, Alex created SWAG, Students With A Goal, to take on tobacco issues. He's leading the club now in a petition drive at school and in the community to make the entire school campus is smoke free, not just inside the building, but also outside the doors and at the football field.

"So we've really been trying to work on this and raise awareness and try and push this through the school board this year," he said.

Alex's strong advocacy in the tobacco free campaign doesn't stop at Odessa High School. He is fearlessly taking his efforts to the top -- in Missouri and the nation.

"I have to get in there," he said. "I don't want to wait for somebody else to come and try and lead me through."

With the Tobacco Free Missouri Youth Advisory Board, Alex has been pushing lawmakers at the Missouri Capitol to make their own offices smoke-free just like the rest of the building is for the general public.

"That [lawmakers exempting their offices] sends a message that they're above the law and they're above every other person and that in itself should bother them," he said. Alex isn't intimidated at all by confronting powerful decision makers.

"Absolutely not because they work for us," he said, "not the other way around. We, the constituents, are the ones who are in charge."

"I can see him as a world changer," says Terry Stever, Odessa High Student Council sponsor. "What I see with him is that he really has a bent toward wanting to pursue justice and what's right. And when he sees a cause, he's going to go for it to try to do what he can to make it better for the people. He takes leadership really, really seriously and is a servant leader."

Taking on major issues at the highest levels of government and rubbing shoulders with national political leaders he admires, like Missouri U.S Senator Claire McCaskill and Missouri U.S. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II, has Alex strongly thinking about a significant political career himself one day.

"I like to believe the reason you go into leadership is not to gain power but to do the right thing and to make a difference," he said. "I want to be for the people that I represent. I want to be a voice for them. I want to help them."

Pursuing justice. A true servant leader.

The pinnacle of Alex's leadership experience came last summer when he was selected as one of Missouri's two representatives to the week-long Boys Nation youth government conference in Washington DC. He was appointed Attorney General and got to meet with President Obama and Missouri U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill. Alex has been honored often for his wide-ranging work, including this year's national Joining Forces Award for Youth Advocacy from The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Check out the awards site and you can see Alex's and his young colleagues' work with Tobacco Free Missouri. You can also check them out on Facebook.

Meantime, Alex just got positive news in the Clear the Air in Our State Capitol campaign. The Jefferson City City Council for the first time passed a resolution urging the state legislature to make the State Capitol fully smoke-free. Alex has a petition for Missouri citizens to sign to support the campaign. Join the campaign here.

FOX 4 News is Working for You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.

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