Using Education to Fight the Battle Against Vaping

Youth Vaping Prevention: Tools and Strategies to Use in Your Classroom and Community edLeader Panel recording screenshot

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If schools and communities only had to worry about youth smoking now, they would be winning, according to Amy Taylor, Chief of Community Engagement for Truth Initiative. Only about 2.3% of the youth population smoked in 2021 compared to 23% in 2000. Unfortunately, though, right before the pandemic, 27% of youth were vaping, and that fight is ongoing.

During the edLeader Panel “Youth Vaping Prevention: Tools and Strategies to Use in Your Classroom and Community,” Taylor and her co-panelists discussed the dangers of vaping and how they are trying to educate kids about it.

First, Taylor explained why so many teens are vaping. Ironically, vaping was initially marketed as a way to help adults quit smoking, promoting the idea that vaping was better for the body than using cigarettes.

Vaping companies also used some of the same marketing tactics that cigarette firms used in previous years that enticed youth smokers, but they added in mental health language—like vaping to help them take a break—that also appealed to the teen audience.

With the addition of flavors that made it seem more like there was no nicotine at all as well as disposables that made it seem cheaper, many teens saw vaping as just another pleasurable activity. However, as the Truth Initiative and many experts have found, vaping is highly addictive and the health impacts of inhaling nicotine and countless chemicals straight into the lungs are still unknown.

Matthew Johnson, Director of Athletics and Activities and Drug-Free Schools Liaison at Olathe Public Schools (KS), said while vaping was at first the cool thing to try, he and his colleagues see all of the attributes of an addiction-centered activity. Punishing students for vaping isn’t working because users can’t stop—Johnson has had students tell him they had to vape, no matter what the consequences.

That’s why schools are now focusing on educational programs to prevent vaping and cessation programs to help students quit. Rachael Perez, Community Prevention Coordinator for Johnson County Mental Health Center, said what teens and their families need is open conversation about vaping.

Many teens are unaware of what vaping actually entails, and providing them with the facts is eye-opening. Perez’s group also provides training for community members that they can take to schools, churches, or wherever they are interacting with young people.

Similarly, Taylor says that the Truth Initiative has found that talking about the science of addiction makes an impact on youth behavior. One of their programs, Vaping: Know the truth, is a self-guided curriculum, offering science-based information on vaping as well as resources for quitting. Letting teens explore how vaping actually works and the impact on the body allows them to have peer-led conversations that are more effective than adults just telling them not to vape.

Johnson cautions, though, that the battle is just beginning. Something is always changing with student behavior that makes products like vaping attractive, and he feels like he’s constantly playing defense. Also, students are getting more adept at hiding their behaviors—even figuring out how to get around vape detectors in the bathrooms. But overall, every success his team has had has been based on good relationships with the students and their families. Gaining their trust and showing them you care is the best first step.

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, Youth Vaping Prevention: Tools and Strategies to Use in Your Classroom and Community, sponsored by EVERFI from Blackbaud in partnership with the Truth Initiative.

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Article by Stacey Pusey, based on this edLeader Panel