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Back to school this year has a whole new context with COVID-19. This summer left us all in un-charted territory, trying to stay safe and healthy while learning to cope with this strange new world. We all want the best for our children, to begin a new school year full of hope, progress and some semblance of normalcy. Many students crave connectedness, structure, and support.  

For some young people, back to school may offer increased opportunities for experimentation with tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1 in 4 kids are using e-cigarettes. As experimentation increases, so does the risk for nicotine dependence. Plus, as studies have shown, the teen use of any tobacco product can be harmful to their developing brain and lungs.   

This school year, through our End the Youth Epidemic campaign, the American Lung Association aims to provide you, your students, your school and your community with effective tools to create a healthier, tobacco-free future for our kids.  We plan to tackle this issue on all fronts— through awareness, education, advocacy and research. Together, with your support and the comprehensive approach of this new initiative, we can save lives and prevent young Americans from a lifetime of addiction at the hands of big tobacco. This new and broad effort comprises four components to eliminate the youth vaping epidemic and address youth tobacco use.  

Our public awareness campaign with the Ad Council, aptly named “Get Your Head Out of the Cloud,” seeks to equip parents with the facts about e-cigarettes and support conversations before kids start vaping.    We hope the campaign serves as a wake-up call to parents of 10- to 14-year-olds, to help them have ongoing and effective conversations with their children, while they’re still willing to listen. In addition, we are offering parents free educational resources and a conversation guide on our website, TalkAboutVaping.org.

As a parent, educator and concerned citizen, I’m particularly excited for the launch of this campaign, and especially the Vape-Free Schools Initiative which will help school administration and educators address the surge of youth vaping. To become a member of the initiative, schools are asked to review and, if necessary, revise their tobacco-free policy to prohibit all tobacco use, including e-cigarettes by students, staff, parents and visitors. In addition, members of the school’s staff are asked  to complete American Lung Association trainings using our new, online, on-demand e-learning platform to deliver tobacco intervention and cessation programs for students. Some highlights of the program include: 

  • INDEPTH® (Intervention for Nicotine Dependence: Education, Prevention, Tobacco and Health) is an alternative for students who face suspension for violating school tobacco policies. Rather than focusing solely on punishment, , INDEPTH is a supportive program that teaches students about nicotine dependence and establishing healthy behaviors.
  • Not-On-Tobacco® is a teen tobacco cessation program for students that want to quit.  The 10-session program provides tools, information and support for teens to end their dependence on nicotine. N-O-T utilizes a holistic approach by offering skills to overcome tobacco use, as well as learning how to make healthy decisions, communication and resiliency skills, and stress management.
  • Vape-Free Schools Initiative also includes guidance on establishing comprehensive tobacco free school policies that protect students, faculty, staff and visitors on all properties utilized and owned by schools every day, every week, all year long—even when school is not in session.

Our 12-Point Advocacy Plan to end the Tobacco Epidemic calls for policy changes at the federal, state and local levels to reduce tobacco use, including e-cigarettes. The plan calls for ending the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes and other tobacco products and demands the Food and Drug Administration crack down on misleading claims by partnering with the Federal Trade Commission to halt advertising and marketing to kids, including on social media, and prohibit the online sale of all tobacco products. We will continue to work closely with our partners at the federal, state and local levels to pass policies that will lead to a tobacco-free generation. 

In addition, the American Lung Association has made a $2 million research investment to understand the effects of vaping on developing lungs. We are partnering with Northwestern University in a $25 million National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded grant to study the longitudinal lung health of millennials, including the long-term impact of vaping. Through an additional and unique partnership with NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute we will enhance the study’s infrastructure, healthcare utilization and examine early lung injuries due to vaping. 

It is imperative that we take strides toward ending the youth vaping epidemic, and that work starts with each and every one of us. As schools come back in session, whether in-person, virtually or a hybrid, let’s arm our students and schools with resources and support to give our students the strongest and tobacco-free start.  

Visit our End the Epidemic webpage to learn more. 

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