June 28, 1999 12:00 PM

Dining at a Louisville restaurant with her parents and two brothers in 1995, Deanna Durrett noticed, she recalls, “how easy it would be for me, a 13-year-old,” to buy cigarettes from a vending machine. So she conducted a sting at 20 local eateries. “I was successful 100 percent of the time,” says Durrett, now 17 and a senior at Sacred Heart Academy. Returning the cigarettes to the restaurant managers, she politely demanded they remove the machines. Four complied—and an antismoking firebrand was born.

Since then, Deanna has met with President Clinton, lobbied on Capitol Hill and appeared on Larry King Live. In April she received the 1999 National Youth Advocate of the Year award from Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids—the nation’s largest nongovernment antismoking initiative. Says Bill Novelli, the group’s president: “She’s the kind of person who will speak to a legislator, be very courteous but with steel in her voice.”

That combo is a must in Kentucky, America’s second-largest tobacco producer. In ’96, after Durrett addressed the state’s agricultural committee, some lawmakers responded by lighting up. “I was clouded in smoke,” she says. But “Deanna has no fear,” says her mother, Sally, 40, a dental assistant (dad Steve, 40, is a civil engineer). Durrett says, “If I can keep one child from tobacco, then everything I’ve done is worth it.”

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