At South Summit, Big Tobacco gets its butts kicked
Event educates students about dangers of tobacco, e-cigarettes
Cigarettes — electronic or otherwise — have no place in the halls of South Summit High School.
That was the message the Summit County Health Department sent to students March 15 as part of the national Kick Butts Day, an effort aimed at educating teenagers against the dangers of tobacco and electronic cigarettes. At South Summit, students “aired out tobacco’s dirty laundry” by hanging t-shirts and posters emblazoned with anti-tobacco messages on a clothesline in the school’s main foyer.
Tiffany Anderson, health educator for the Summit County Health Department, said it’s critical to meet students face-to-face and arm them with the information they’ll need to protect themselves as Big Tobacco and e-cigarette companies target them.
“It’s important to get into the schools because the tobacco industry has said that they want to target their replacement users because they know they have a product that kills,” she said. “Their long-term users die. To get a person before they turn 21 is a key time when a person is most likely to start smoking. So the 14- to 21-year-old is that key customer. It’s crucial that we empower and educate our youth before they even consider starting.”
Anderson said Utah is fortunate to have one of the lowest tobacco usage rates in the country. However, usage of e-cigarettes among teens has skyrocketed in recent years. The combination of sweet, candy-like flavors available in e-cigarettes and marketing that portrays vaping as a cool and safe alternative to traditional cigarettes has fooled teens into thinking they are harmless.
That’s far from true, however, Anderson said. In addition to the fact e-cigarette juice often contains harmful substances, tobacco companies are banking on eventually turning e-cigarette users into traditional smokers.
“Big Tobacco has stated that a vape user today is a cigarette user tomorrow,” she said. “So it’s key for us to get with (teenagers). It’s really important. … People don’t think e-cigarettes are dangerous, but they really are. They’re just as dangerous as any other cigarette.”
Bailee Tychsen, a student in South Summit High School’s peer leader organization that helped put on the event, said the dangers of tobacco aren’t often present within the school’s halls. Nonetheless, talking about them is important.
“In our school, tobacco use isn’t really a big thing unless you’re in a specific group, really,” she said. “We’re not a big school where it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s always at these parties.’ But since we’re a smaller school, I think it’s more important that we make people aware of it because it is out there, even if it’s not in (the school).”
Gracie Averett, another student peer leader, said she’s hopeful that bringing the issue to the attention of students will spark a community-wide effort to tackle tobacco.
“If the kids get involved, then the parents get involved,” she said. “It’s something that, if we implement it in schools, it will also be implemented in homes. So we’re able to make a difference on a school level, as well as a community level.”
Anderson said the Health Department is perpetually working on initiatives similar to Kick Butts Day, including efforts to help students deal with negative peer pressure. Even if tobacco or e-cigarettes aren’t prevalent at South Summit, they’ll eventually face a situation where they’ll have to learn how to say ‘No.’
“We’re empowering them,” she said. “We want to give them some weapons, some statements to protect themselves, even if they feel the peer pressure.”
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