By Iman Dancy, Jacob Turner, Kavya Kumar and Maya Nair, members of the NC Child Youth Advocacy Council
The world of tobacco is evolving quickly. As the use of cigarettes decline among teens, students are instead turning to Juuls (a common e-cigarette brand), vapes, and similar nicotine products. However, the adults charged with overseeing students — such as teachers and administrators— are often unfamiliar with such products. These sleek devices are being snuck out of class into bathrooms, and being openly used in parking lots and cars after school.
Aside from the cancer-causing chemical in such products, teenagers who use vapes are seven time more likely to begin smoking cigarettes than average. Vaping among students can lead to negative health outcomes, and youth vaping is particularly tied to poor oral health outcomes. After observing the growing popularity of electronic smoking devices, the NC Child Youth Advocacy Council sought to learn more. We spent the last year gathering information about the the prevalence, attitudes, and adult understanding of the growing problem of nicotine addiction among youth. We conducted a survey of 200 students, and interviewed school officials. Our findings included:
- Nearly half of Wake County students surveyed admitted to using tobacco products.
- Nearly half of those who admitted using nicotine, have used on the school campus.
- One in five students were not aware of their school’s tobacco policy.
- The school officials we interviewed did not know about Juuls, a very discreet device that looks similar to a flash drive and can charge through a laptop.
- Officials said they did not find a need to address the prevalence of Juuls because there is a larger focus on possession of marijuana, alcohol, and other illegal substances. For this reason, there is no attention on clear enforcement for all tobacco products.
- A couple weeks later, one of the school officials we talked to shared that once he was informed what a Juul looked like, the school had been catching vape products frequently.
On May 1st, 2018 we presented our findings to the Wake County School Board, and proposed two policy changes. The first was an update in the WCPSS policy, and signage on campus, to explicitly include some of the nicotine products (Juuls, vapes, e-cigarettes, etc.) that are increasing in popularity among Wake County students. Direct usage of these terms erases the gray area that currently exists regarding electronic smoking devices. We’re pleased to report that on June 19, 2018 the Wake County School Board voted unanimously to make this change. Check out the news story!
Second, we asked that the school board bring information about these new nicotine products into the health class curriculum for high school-aged students. The current curriculum briefly addresses nicotine addiction and its effects, solely mentioning traditional cigarettes. In addition, we recommended that Wake County turn to some of the successful tobacco cessation programs being used in school systems around the nation. These programs inform students about short and long-term health risks, and help develop refusal skills, rather than strictly emphasizing punishment. Focusing on the root causes of the behavior, rather than reprimanding students in inconsistent ways, will truly reduce the prevalence of youth nicotine use.
We hope that as new policies are implemented, a focus will be placed on education rather than discipline. We do not believe that punishing those who don’t always understand the risks of their actions will solve the problem. Evidence-based interventions, and smoking cessation programs, should be used instead.
Iman Dancy, Kavya Kumar, Maya Nair and Jacob Turner, along with Layla Ejlali (not pictured), are Wake County high school students and members of NC Child’s Youth Advocacy Council. The team has been working together on this project since August 2017. For more information about the NC Child Youth Advocacy Council, please contact La-Mine Perkins, firstname.lastname@example.org
NC Child is a member of the YES! Youth Network, a cohort of youth-adult teams working to engage youth as leaders in creating community change.
The YES! Youth Network seeks to:
- Identify individuals, groups, and organizations who are interested in learning more about youth empowerment as a potential strategy for dismantling racism and creating community change.
- Build the capacity of state and national network members to engage and empower youth as leaders in creating racial equity.
- Elevate the voices of youth of color and shift power models to more equitably engage youth as leaders.
- Provide training, support and resources to youth and adults working towards creating policy, system, and
- environmental changes the impact racial and health equity.
- Find opportunities for partnership to leverage a diverse network of youth and adult allies across the country.
For more information about the YES! Youth Network, please contact Katie Warner, Katie@youthempoweredsolutions.org