Garden City High School sophomore Austin Morren received a reminder about the power of tobacco marketing of youth while attempting to educate elementary students on health risks of vaping.
Fifth- and sixth-graders’ interest in the presentation surged when Morren and his peers with Resist Tobacco outlined how companies invested in campaigns aimed at convincing underage customers to vape. The allure is driven by introduction of candy-flavored, high-nicotine products far easier to conceal than cigarettes, he said.
"We mentioned some of the candies, such as Skittles and Sour Patch," Morren said. "Their reactions were just a revelation to us. They were attracted to these flavors."
Morren joined about 200 other students at the Capitol last week to express support for legislation designed to deter consumption of traditional tobacco and new-wave vaping products. The objective of Take Down Tobacco Day was to share experiences of Kansas youth and to discourage passage of a Kansas House bill that students believe has been undermined by the tobacco industry.
Jordan Roberts, a youth prevention advocate working with the Tobacco Free Kansas Coalition, said on the Capitol Insider podcast that the name of the annual event was changed from Kick Butts Day to reflect epidemic usage of vaping among students.
"The tobacco landscape is evolving," she said. "Kick Butts Day is just talking about combustible cigarettes. We have to change our language to encompass these new tobacco products, which is vaping."
Vaping has grown in popularity with rise of electronic cigarettes introduced into the U.S. market more than a decade ago. Generally, a vaping device consists of a mouthpiece, battery, cartridge with an e-liquid and a heating component. When the device is used, e-liquid high in nicotine and often flavored is converted into an aerosol inhaled into the lungs.
The devices are commonly made to look like a computer USB flash drive, asthma inhaler or key ring to help with concealment.
Alyssa Canning, a student at Mill Valley High School in Johnson County, said during the podcast and at a statehouse rally that she became aware of vaping in middle school. She said full force of the movement became evident in high school, where students vaped regularly in school. She said one-fourth of Kansas high school students have tried vaping.
Kansas policymakers need to understand companies eager to expand a customer base weakened by attacks on tobacco usage are exploiting youth, she said.
"Legislators don’t go to school with us and see what we see," Canning said. "Last year, talking to my legislators, one of them didn’t know what vape was. Education can help."
Morren, of Garden City High School, said there was a thriving black market in vaping supplies for people under 18. He said local community college students are supplying underage users in Garden City.
"They’re trying to make a profit off these young kids along with the tobacco industry," he said.
Jordan Feuerborn, who works with the American Cancer Society’s advocacy group Cancer Action Network, said part of students’ message was to urge House and Senate members to reconsider contents of House Bill 2563. It was originally crafted to solidify federal law raising the legal age for tobacco sales to 21.
The House Federal and State Affairs Committee amended it in February to exclude menthol flavors from sales restrictions, create new regulatory loopholes for the tobacco industry and delete from Kansas law a casino exemption to the indoor smoking ban. The legislation lacks funding for enforcement of laws applying to tobacco retailers in Kansas, she said.
"The bill itself creates more problems than it solves," Feuerborn said. "We think legislators were well-intentioned. They understand that there’s a youth epidemic happening and they want to do something to be helpful."