Walk into a high school bathroom these days and you may be greeted by clouds of smoke – actually, vapor – from e-cigarettes. But it’s not just water vapor. This vapor contains nicotine and other harmful chemicals. After years of decline, overall tobacco use is now up for this age group, driven by the increase in vaping. The most recent survey shows that 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students use e-cigarettes, making vaping the latest teen health epidemic.
“I noticed in my high school that a lot of my friends were vaping; I was even asked to try it!” said Lauren Preston, a 4-H member from Fairfield County. Like Lauren, others were alarmed by what they were seeing among their peers at school, so the Ohio 4-H Health Heroes decided to take on this important public health issue. They debuted their presentation at the National 4-H Summit on Healthy Living last month in Washington, DC. They also presented to a standing-room-only group of teens and adult leaders at the recent Ohio 4-H Conference in Columbus.
In this presentation, the teens share the extent of the problem and reasons for vaping, using skits and myths versus facts and questions to inform about the harmful effects of e-cigarettes. Getting the facts is important, noted Callia Barwick of Mahoning County, who had already researched the topic last fall for a school project, because “it’s a serious topic and many are unaware or uninformed.” Nicotine is of particular concern because of its addictive qualities and effects on the developing teen brain. In small groups, the participants discuss how to handle situations such as responding to someone who offers you a vape and talking to a friend about the dangers of vaping. They conclude the presentation by sharing resources that participants can access to learn more about the topic.
The Ohio 4-H Health Heroes teen leaders also benefit from being involved. “Over the past few months, I've been able to learn more about vaping and the dangers that come with it,” said Lauren Preston of Fairfield County. “When I go off to college next year I'll know how to handle a situation if I am asked and how to educate friends who vape.” As part of their pledge to better health, members are also following up with various efforts in their local communities, such as making presentations to middle school classrooms.
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