DePaolo students kick butts

DePaolo students gathered to create posters to raise awareness about the dangers of e-cigarettes during the annual Kick Butts Day.

Kids in Connecticut united against tobacco use on March 20 as they join thousands of young people nationwide to mark “Kick Butts Day,” an annual day of youth activism sponsored by the campaign for tobacco-free kids. More than 1,000 events were planned across the United States.

This year, kids focused on kicking Juul, the e-cigarette that has become enormously popular among youth across the country.

DePaolo Middle School students got involved, and presented morning public service announcements. They displayed posters around the school to promote a smoke-free environment.

“This year on Kick Butts Day, we’re challenging policy makers at every level to do their part to reverse the youth e-cigarette epidemic and continue driving down youth tobacco use,” said president of the campaign for tobacco-free kids Matthew Myers in a press release. “We cannot allow e-cigarettes, especially Juul, to addict another generation and reverse the enormous progress we’ve made in reducing youth tobacco use.”

While cigarette smoking among high school students nationwide has fallen to 8.1 percent, e-cigarette use among high schoolers rose by an alarming 78 percent in 2018 alone – to 20.8 percent of the student population. In 2018, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes. U.S. public health leaders have called youth e-cigarette use an “epidemic” that is addicting a new generation of kids.

In Connecticut, 14.7 percent of high school students use e-cigarettes, while 3.5 percent smoke cigarettes. Tobacco use claims 4,900 lives in Connecticut and costs the state $2 billion in health care bills each year.

DePaolo Middle School’s event came just days after the Southington Town Council approved an ordinance that would raise the age of purchase for tobacco products, including vaping and e-cigarette products, to 21. The Southington Town-Wide Effort to Promote Success (STEPS) coalition was a key influencer to the vote.

“The need for the ordinance arose because so many kids today are involved in vaping,” said DePaolo vice principal and chair of the Town Council Chris Palmieri. “It seems to be a new thing, and the STEPS coalition wanted to make sure we addressed it.”

STEPS youth prevention coordinator Kelly Leppard said research shows tobacco products can be particularly harmful to developing youth.

“We think from a prevention aspect that anything we can do to reduce access is a step in the right direction,” said Leppard.

On kick butts day, youth and health advocates called for strong action to reverse the youth e-cigarette epidemic. In particular, many called on the Food and Drug Administration, states and cities to ban all flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes in flavors like cotton candy, gummy bear and mango that tempt kids.

Other effective strategies to reduce youth tobacco use include laws raising the tobacco sale age to 21, significant tobacco tax increases, comprehensive smoke-free laws and well-funded tobacco prevention programs.

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