Local coalition working to raise awareness of the dangers of vaping

July 30 – LEWISTON – A locally coordinated effort to curb youth vaping wrapped up last fall and now organizers are weeks away from learning how their public health campaign made a difference.

St. Mary’s Health System, Central Maine Healthcare, and Healthy Androscoggin, the county’s community health coalition, have worked together to combat the growing use of e-cigarettes and vaping products among Maine youth by the through a social media campaign, logo contest and other outreach efforts.

Every two years, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services partners with the Department of Education to conduct the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, which surveys students in grades 5-12 on their behaviors and attitudes towards several health factors, including tobacco, alcohol and drug use, mental well-being and physical activity.

The networks decided to focus on tobacco prevention and awareness given the results of the 2019 survey and the results of the Maine Shared Community Health Needs Assessment for Androscoggin County from the same year. . Both reports were published in 2020.

“We were truly amazed to see data from the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, which indicated that at that time, roughly one in two – 45% – of Maine high school students had used e-cigarettes,” Elizabeth Keene, St. Mary’s vice president of mission integration, said earlier this week.

“And not only that, but more than half of them didn’t believe e-cigarettes contained nicotine, so they didn’t know they were using this highly, highly addictive substance.”

Corrie Brown, executive director of Healthy Androscoggin, said her organization has received funding from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to work on smoking prevention since 1995.

Tobacco products are very different from what they were almost 30 years ago, she said.

“In 1995, it was mostly fuel cigarettes,” Brown said, and many people can still think of those when thinking about tobacco.

But since e-cigarettes, and especially vape products like Juul, hit the market about 10 years ago and have exploded in popularity over the past five years, traditional cigarettes have been replaced by these electronics. of nicotine delivery, Brown said.

“Now it’s the most used product, especially among young people,” she said.

According to MIHYS 2019, approximately 45% of high school students in Androscoggin County and statewide reported having tried a vaping product. Nearly 30% of students said they had used a vaping product at least once in the past month.

More than half said the last time they used a vaping product it contained nicotine.

Two years earlier, about 33% of high school students in Androscoggin County and Maine said they had tried a vaping product; 14-15% said they had used a vaping product in the previous 30 days. Between a fifth and a quarter of students said the last products they used contained nicotine.

“We know from different survey data that, you know, 80% of young people who smoke your traditional cigarettes started with a vape and specifically a flavored vape,” Brown said. “So that’s really leading (or) maybe they’re starting there. But they’re also transitioning to a traditional cigarette, which we know is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States”

Keene, of St. Mary’s, said the group has heard, particularly from school counselors, that there has been an “exponential increase in vaping” during the pandemic.

“Students were doing it to deal with the stress they were feeling,” she said.

With the help of a $10,000 grant from St. Mary’s parent company, Massachusetts-based Covenant Health, the group launched a social media campaign in spring 2021 targeting parents and their children to raise awareness. the dangers of vaping and other nicotine products. and to provide advice on how to reduce or stop using them.

Last fall, they also held a contest for high school students to design a logo that would go on various products and materials. Twenty-six students from Lewiston, Edward Little and Lisbon high schools and St. Dominic’s Academy participated.

Winner Austin Bouchard of Lewiston High School wrote in his submission that “people try to pass off vaping as an everyday thing and that’s just not true; it’s just as harmful as smoking cigarettes. and other tobacco products”.

He used a bear trap in his design because “they activate very quickly and look vicious”, and he wanted to communicate the idea that vaping is “a very scary thing you shouldn’t touch “.

Brown of Healthy Androscoggin said they are weeks away from receiving data from MIYHS 2021, which will help the group gauge the success of the campaign. Its impact will likely be felt for many years as the coalition continues its public awareness work.