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Event Highlights the Dangers of Vaping

Public Health Madison Dane County recently hosted an open-house event at Warner Park Community Recreation Center. The goal of the event was to raise awareness about vaping and its risks for young people. The event focused on the medical research and useful facts about vaping.

The creativity of local high schoolers was featured, in the form of three vaping awareness posters. The posters are a product of a two-year project that was a joint effort between Public Health Madison Dane County (PHMDC), UW-Madison Extension, and Madison teens.

At the event, the posters took center-stage, but were accompanied by various educational “stations” that highlighted what the students learned during the project. The first stop was a timeline of tobacco use, advertising, and legislation, dating back to 6000 B.C. and its use in ancient Native American communities for healing and tradition. The timeline included the creation of the first widely recognized vape, the Juul, and the recent spike in vape and e-cigarette use among youth.

Another station exposed some of the chemicals found in vapes, including formaldehyde, acetone, and benzene. These chemicals are not intended for consumption, and are often used for preserving corpses, removing nail polish, or fueling cars. The students at this station spoke about what they learned during the project.

One of the high school students and member of the Tobacco Youth Prevention Coalition, Khady, said, “We learned about all the tobacco history, how it affects teens, and I already had this awareness about how tobacco was bad, but I didn't see it in full force until doing the coalition. Upon seeing this, I was like yeah, this is a big problem and I see it every day.”

Khady said evidence of vaping and smoking can be seen every day, everywhere. To showcase this, the students created a collage of photos they took around the city picturing lighters, vapes, “no smoking” signs, and the like. Adjacent to the collage, the three student-designed posters emphasized the pressure youth experience to vape and the ensuing negative consequences of vaping.

Students like Khady participate in regular “undercover missions,” where they attempt to buy tobacco and smoking products from retailers. Khady motioned to a box full of vapes, cigarettes, and other smoking products that coalition members collected during their missions.

Jennifer Hurtado-Barbus, Tobacco Compliance Inspector and Coordinator for PHMDC, leads these missions with high schoolers. She explained that depending on whether a location sells the undercover teens smoking products, she goes inside after the teens leave and either gives the vendor a warning or congratulates them on “being a good neighbor.”

“They’re way more alert now.…we visit every location three times a year. So, they know we’re coming, I tell them we're coming,” said Hurtado-Barbus. “Some will be upset with me. They think it's a waste of time. But it's clearly not. Just a couple months ago we had 20 locations sell out of 25.”

The incentive to sell such products for underage youth is immense. For many students, this fact is troubling.

“Some of the vapes are like $20 and people buy them all the time. So, if you’re a teenager and you’re working part time, you’re spending [your] paycheck and skipping class just to go vape,” said Khady.

Another high school student, Tenzin, shared that she has a family member who was addicted to smoking, and seeing her peers at school smoking and vaping concerns her. She said she is pleased with how the three posters turned out and is hopeful they will make an impact.

“I hope that more people will learn about how easy it is for kids to get access to smoking products, like tobacco….and that they take a step to prevent that,” said Tenzin.

The three posters will be used for outreach by PHMDC and will be distributed around Madison and Dane County.

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