Healthier Perth Amboy (HPA) has identified a critical issue not originally in our Blueprint for Action that needs our immediate attention: the vaping epidemic. To first address this issue, we turned to those who are affected the most — teenagers. Using the ultimate, tried and true way of bringing people together – pizza — Healthier Perth Amboy sat down with about 25 middle and high school students to hear their thoughts and experiences.
Here are some sobering comments from the teenagers about vaping:
- Out of every 10 of their friends/peers, between eight to nine of them vaped.
- Teenagers are clearly addicted to it. As an example, they go to the bathroom at school and ask if “anyone has nicotine” and are desperate to use it because they are stressed, mostly because of problems at home.
- Although new laws banning sales of vaping products would be helpful, it would not fix the problem as most teenagers buy online and are already addicted.
- There needs to be a focus on education in schools, not just education or awareness campaigns.
- Teenagers need more opportunities to get the help they need to cope with stress and problems at home.
Most importantly, the teenagers were emphatic that they should be part of these decisions, because they won’t listen to their parents or teachers, but they will listen to their friends. In response, we created an Anti-Vaping Task Force with a group of interested teenagers that same day. Healthier Perth Amboy plans to collaborate with these teenagers to take a political stance on vaping, and launch an educational campaign that other teenagers will support. Original ideas for this educational campaign came from the teens, not from HPA representatives. Of course, HPA partners offered their ideas, and the teens’ gave honest feedback, mostly, “kids wouldn’t respond well to that.”
The teens suggested using the culture of the time and the generation to make vaping something that is not cool to do. Examples include launching social media challenges on Tik Tok and Instagram. Other ideas include changing the conversation around vaping by utilizing the strengths of the communications team at Perth Amboy High School. Repeatedly, the students suggested that we need to treat addicted students just as we would addicted adults by 1) creating support groups; 2) promoting best practices to quit smoking, and 3) signing students up for these opportunities when they are caught vaping at school, instead of suspending them. Healthier Perth Amboy is humbled that these are the ideas that came out of just one conversation with the youth of our city. We are excited to be part of the conversation to come.