Wednesday marks the 24th annual “Kick Butts Day,” in which the group Students Working against Tobacco raises awareness of tobacco-related health problems.
But this year’s theme -- “Not a Lab Rat” – actually targets vaping.
“Typically on Kick Butts Day the youth in Escambia County and really across the state stand up against the messages that Big Tobacco tries to push out across the nation,” said Vanessa Phillips at the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County.
“Usually on this particular day, adults are encouraged by teens – and teens alike – to adopt a day to quit smoking.”
Both federal and state health departments have concluded that e-cigarettes are not harmless. Many contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals; ultrafine particles, and toxins considered to be carcinogens. Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.
“We’re not here to be experimented on,” says Phillips. “With the uncertainty with e-cigarettes and electronic nicotine delivery systems we really want teens to know that this is not a replacement – it’s not a good replacement.”
When it comes to e-cigarettes, health officials have their work cut out for them. Youth usage rates in Escambia have reached more than 25 and a half percent overall; use on middle and high school campuses in the county has risen to more than three percent.
“Some of our youth are tending to think ‘it’s only flavor, it’s not going to hurt you it’s not going to harm you,’” Phillips said. “We in Tobacco-Free Florida and Escambia County specifically have made sure to educate our young people, especially those in middle and high school. Driving in that ‘you need to stand up, and not be a lab rat at all.’”
As E-cigarette firms continue to deny they’re targeting young people, Tobacco-Free Florida reports one in four Florida youths between 11 and 18 tried vaping in 2018, with about one in four Florida high school students reported current use last year – a 58 percent increase compared to 2017.
“The young people are being told there’s no risk, no harm, there is no nicotine in some of these products; we have to debunk those myths,” says Phillips. “We are definitely focused on putting that correct information out there.”
This week is spring break for the Escambia County School District, but Vanessa Phillips at the Health Department says they’ll be working with the Keep Pensacola Beautiful initiative to draw attention to the amount of cigarette butts and other smoking-related litter.
“We’ve adopted Brentwood Park and we’ll be out cleaning up that park, but the youth will be out also handing out informational fliers,” said Phillips. We really want to focus on abstaining, prevention, and even cession if they’ve already started.”
Another statewide “Kick Butts” day is scheduled for October 23. More information -- and how to get involved – is at www.swatflorida.com.