(LOUISVILLE, Ky, April 22, 2019) A Kentucky peer education campaign launched today is designed to debunk the false beliefs held by many adolescents and teens that using e-cigarettes is either harmless or at least healthier for them than smoking. The I Just Didn't Know campaign, developed by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, includes public service announcements featuring Kentucky students sharing what they've learned about the dangers of e-cigarettes for youth.
Jenna, a Jefferson County high school student who appears in the 30-second PSA, holds up the most popular brand of e-cigarette in the country and says, "This isn't a flash drive. This is an e-cig. It's a big problem in a small device."
"I could get addicted to this, and I'm just 11 years old," says Claire, a Henry County middle schooler, who also appears in the 30-second PSA. "I just didn't know."
"One little pod of this e-cigarette is equal to a whole pack of cigarettes," says Hayley, a tobacco-free student ambassador at the University of Kentucky, referring to the high nicotine content in most e-cigarettes. "I just didn't know."
"Kids think e-cigs are safe because that's exactly how they've been marketed," said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. "But the truth is that they are very harmful to youth because they are chock full of nicotine, which is extremely addictive. Nicotine slows brain development in kids and teens and affects their memory, self-control, attention span, and mood. Addiction to nicotine also can lead to smoking combustible cigarettes and increase kids' risk of other types of addiction as they grow into adulthood."
In addition to the PSAs, the Foundation's I Just Didn't Know campaign includes an Instagram account, a website with information and tools for parents, guardians and teachers, and a YouTube channel. The Foundation is making the PSAs and other videos available free to schools, youth groups, health departments and other organizations to help spread the word about the dangers of youth vaping.
"We hope broadcast and cable stations throughout the Commonwealth will air these PSAs over and over to help counter the false belief that e-cigs and vapes are safe for youth," Chandler said.
Kerri Schelling, executive director of the Kentucky School Boards Association, said, "We continue to hear from our school leaders that the surge of e-cigarette use came out of nowhere, and that it is hard to combat partly because too many students and adults think these are harmless or no big deal. We believe this campaign will help everyone become aware of the health dangers these devices really pose."
"Cotton candy, chocolate ice cream, watermelon. These e-cigarette pod flavors aren't made to appeal to adults; they're meant to entice youth taste buds," said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. "The more awareness we bring to the fact that these products are just nicotine disguised as desserts, the better chance we have at ending this surge in use among our middle and high school students."
"The students in these public service announcements are delivering an important message to their peers and I hope that their audience is listening. We are winning the war on teen smoking in Kentucky, but losing ground to vaping in our middle and high schools," House Speaker David Osborne added. "We can pass legislation and regulate the products, but the greatest headway will come from educating parents and students on just how addictive and dangerous these products are before the habit is formed."
Two of the youth featured in the PSAs - Alivia and Chloe - are members of the Johnson County Middle School "Juul Breakers" community problem solving group focused on reducing youth vaping. The students are speaking with their peers, legislators and superintendents throughout their region, and were successful in getting an anonymous youth vaping reporting bill introduced and passed through the Kentucky Senate in this year's General Assembly.
"Vaping and e-cigarettes are growing in popularity among teens, just as traditional smoking is declining," said Paula Little, assistant superintendent, Clinton County School District and a member of the Foundation's Board of Directors. "Because e-cigarettes are a newer phenomenon and have a more modern, high-tech look, many adolescents seem unaware of the dangers associated with them. It is time for Kentucky, and its schools in particular, to step up and make sure youth are educated about this growing epidemic."
Dr. Pat Withrow, retired cardiologist and director of physician outreach for Baptist Health Paducah, travels Western Kentucky giving school presentations about e-cigarettes. He tells the kids that Juul and other e-cigarette are the most addictive tobacco delivery systems for adolescents because they deliver a large hit of nicotine and come in many kid-friendly flavors.
"Some students tell me they can consume an entire pod of nicotine from a Juul in 45 seconds or less," Withrow said.
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NOTE TO REPORTERS, EDITORS and PSA DIRECTORS: The I Just Didn't Know campaign includes a website (www.ijustdidntknow.org), an Instagram page (https://www.instagram.com/ijustdidntknowky/) and a YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCd9zDa_0zusA7ynf30nkKMw). Broadcast copies of the PSAs are available for download from Centaur by contacting Alexa Kerley at 877-326-2583, firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky
Funded by an endowment, the mission of the nonpartisan Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is to address the unmet health needs of Kentuckians by developing and influencing policy, improving access to care, reducing health risks and disparities, and promoting health equity. Since the Foundation opened its doors in 2001, it has invested nearly $28 million in health policy research, advocacy, and demonstration project grants across the Commonwealth. Follow the Foundation on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and visit our website at www.healthy-ky.org.
Bonnie J. Hackbarth