Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Health foundation creates public service announcements about dangers of teen e-cigarette use and offers them free to anyone

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

An explosion of electronic-cigarette use by Kentucky teenagers has prompted the launch of a statewide campaign to debunk the myths that many teens have about these products, such as the belief they produce only water vapor. The campaign features Kentucky students and is called "I Just Didn't Know."

In addition to the 30-second public service announcements, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky campaign includes an Instagram account, a website with information and tools for both youth and adults, and a YouTube channel. The campaign materials are free to anyone who would like to use them, including schools, health departments, youth groups and all media organizations. The launch was announced Tuesday, April 22.

"We have an epidemic raging right now all across the country and we want to do whatever we can to stem it here in Kentucky," Ben Chandler, CEO and president of the foundation, said in an interview. "One of the best ways to do that is to have young people talking to other young people. . . . and we love the tag line, "I Just Didn't Know," because anybody that we talk to about this, that is typically their response."

A 2018 federal report found that one in five high school students and one in 20 middle schoolers used e-cigarettes in 2018, which was a 78 percent jump for high schoolers over 2017 and a 48 percent jump for middle schoolers. It was reported at the 2019 Tobacco Conference last week that Kentucky data shows that e-cigarette use is as high as 75% among students in some Kentucky high schools.

"For decades we've been making progress in reducing smoking rates among youth in the country and in Kentucky, but recently we've made a u-turn. Now we are going in the wrong direction," he said.

E-cigarette aerosol includes cancer-causing chemicals; ultrafine particles that include heavy metals, such as nickel, tin and lead; flavorings like diacetyl, which has been linked to a serious lung disease called "popcorn lung"; and other toxic gases that pose health risk to users and bystanders, according to the  federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also have high levels of nicotine, which not only creates a powerful addiction but can also harm the brain development of youth.

In one of the PSAs, Claire Ramsey, a student from Henry County, says: "It has just as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes does. I could get addicted to this. I'm only 11 years old. . . . I thought it was just water vapor, but it's not. I just didn't know."

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Louisville Republican who has long been a champion of tobacco-free policies, said her two teenage boys had told her that they "just didn't know" that there was so much nicotine in e-cigarettes.

Adams applauded the PSAs and said they could also be used to educate policymakers who also "just don't know" about the dangers of e-cigarettes.

Alivia Hackworth and Chloe Dyer of the Community
Problem Solving club at Johnson County Middle School
Alivia Hackworth, a Johnson County Middle School student who was featured in one of the PSAs along with classmate Chloe Dyer, was part of a group that worked with state Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, to create a bill that would have created an anonymous hotline for students to report concerns about e-cig and tobacco use.

The club won first place for its efforts at the state Governor's Cup competition and will be in an international contest at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in June.

The bill almost passed the General Assembly, and Alivia said the Community Problem Solving club plans to get it introduced again next year.

The legislature did pass a tobacco-free schools bill that Gov. Matt Bevin signed into law. It will take effect July 1, 2020. School districts have three years to opt out of its provisions.

Another thing to worry about, Alivia said, is that these products are causing students in her school to get chemical burns in their mouths and also causing them to have persistent coughs.

"I just want help for my friends, because they are getting sick from this, and they are scared to tell an adult because they feel like they are going to get in trouble," she said.

Richard Hackworth, Alivia's father and a science teacher at her middle school, told Kentucky Health News that their school district had implemented all elements of the students' bill, including an educational component and the recommendations for how to handle violations.

"Until our Community Problem Solving team identified this problem, we just didn't know," he said.

A day after the statewide campaign was announced, Jefferson County Public Schools announced its own anti-vaping campaign, called "Vaping Equals," an intentionally incomplete sentence that is meant to be filled in with facts about e-cigarettes, Spectrum News reports. This campaign includes a classroom component, informational posters and a new website

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