Missouri health coalition helping parents, schools fight youth vaping, addiction

SALEM, Mo. – The Healthy Dent County Prevention Coalition convened late last month to address youth addiction in the area.

After a student survey in Missouri revealed a 20% increase in vaping among those aged 12-18, the coalition developed a comprehensive approach to address vaping and other addictive habits by engaging with schools, parents and students.

Jamie Myers, the executive director of Prevention Consultants of Missouri, plans to send four educational postcards to parents via mail over the 2023 and 2024 school years. The target age group is grades 5-8.

“That will include information about what vaping is, what is included in a vape. It will also touch on the potential that other things can be vapes, not just nicotine,” Myers told The Heartlander. “THC products can be used through vaping as well. It will talk about the effects on the brain and body from vaping. But most importantly, how to talk to their kids and how to prevent their kids from ever using a vaping product.”

Myers plans to have his prevention consultants spearhead a social media campaign targeting teen vaping.

At the September meeting, Salem Chief of Police Joe Chase brought a one-gallon bag filled with vapes and nicotine pods that just one teacher in Dent County had confiscated for a semester.

Nicotine vaping products were designed to discourage cigarette smoke inhalation, but things have evolved dramatically. Today’s vapor products have attractive packaging featuring colorful stickers and gimmicks, and they offer a variety of innocent-sounding flavors such as bubblegum, candy, fruits and more.

“Manufacturers soon realized, ‘Hey, we have a whole new market here by making these more attractive to kids.’ That’s when we saw these devices go from looking like cigarettes to pens, thumb drives and all different styles,” said Myers.

A vaping and addiction presentation will be given to selected high school students, who will then pass on the knowledge to younger peers in their classrooms. 

HDC Prevention Coordinator Carlos Lopez says students get vaping products from multiple sources, including parents, older siblings, friends or the streets. Schools are grappling with vaping issues in large part because students can buy products online to make their vaping habits less noticeable.

Teens are buying hoodies with a discreet drawstring for vaping. Myers points out that the absence of fragrance in today’s vape products creates additional complications for schools and parents.

In their research, Myers and Lopez suggest vaping can result in new addictions in more than a few ways. Myers emphasizes the seriousness of addiction with gateway products, which might escalate to vaping marijuana products with high THC levels, or drinking alcohol.

“It could take a student one hit to become addicted,” said Lopez. “These vapors contain nicotine the same way cigarettes do, or more per pod. That is the most dangerous portion for tobacco and vapor products.”

In the upcoming months, HDC will broaden its scope to include discussions with students on marijuana, opioids and preventing underage drinking. Lopez is convinced the “Too Good For Drugs” program in Dent County has achieved success, and plans to keep it going.

“We’re having a lot of success with that. We can’t know what kind of decisions these students are going to make before they make them, but we feel like we are a presence in our availability and willingness to serve our community in the way of prevention towards our young people. We are doing a ton of work for prevention.”

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