Advocate Spotlight: Kristin O'Carroll

The morning of October 1, 2011 started as an average one; I smoked a cigarette, had a cup of coffee, and headed out for the day. However, it quickly took a turn for the worse. As I sat down for lunch, my heart rate shot up and I felt a sudden rush of adrenaline. I assumed it was anxiety and tried to forget the discomfort. I went about my day until a friend placed his hand on my chest to feel my heart rate. After feeling what felt like “a thousand grenades going off” in my chest, he convinced me to go to the hospital.  There I was told that an aneurysm in my heart ruptured and I would probably need open-heart surgery.

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I had to go to two hospitals before the doctors could confirm it was an aneurysm of the sinus of Valsalva. I had to go to a third hospital to have surgery. There was one thing that every doctor at every hospital agreed on: I had to quit smoking. I was only 21 years old at the time. While everyone I encountered was shocked that I suffered from such a traumatic event at such a young age, few were surprised to learn that I had already been a smoker for five years. Recovering from my event meant not only regaining my strength, but also kicking my addiction.

Even after experiencing a traumatic health crisis, I struggled to quit smoking. I reached out to the American Heart Association to figure out how. Today I am an advocate to prevent children from ever starting.

With the help of the AHA team, I learned not only how dangerous cigarettes are, but also how flavored tobacco products help get kids hooked. Over half of all smokers ages 12-17 use menthol cigarettes. Menthol flavored products have an even bigger impact within the black community. Seven out of ten black youth smokers start by smoking menthol cigarettes. I was one of those seven.

Since becoming an advocate, I have supported initiatives to protect children in San Francisco and Oakland by banning the sale of flavored tobacco products. I was thrilled when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors banned the sale of candy-flavored tobacco in the City. Now, I am joining other advocates in the fight to stop Big Tobacco from overturning the SF Board of Supervisors’ decision.

San Francisco residents will vote on whether to uphold the flavored tobacco ban on June 5, 2018. Join me in helping to keep the next generation tobacco-free. To learn more, visit the campaign website at:

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