By: David Grossman, MD, interim senior vice president, Social and Community Health at Kaiser Permanente; Annie Reed, DrPH, national director, Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools; and Amy Taylor, chief of community engagement at Truth Initiative
With youth continuing to vape at epidemic levels and evidence increasing that shows vaping can damage the lungs and can make young people more vulnerable to COVID-19, it is more important than ever that young people know the facts about e-cigarettes and have resources to quit.
A new national curriculum called “Vaping: Know the truth” is meeting an urgent need to help keep America’s youth from starting to use e-cigarettes and offering resources for those who are already vaping. Developed as part of the nationally recognized youth smoking, vaping, and nicotine prevention campaign from Truth Initiative, the course focuses on the facts about e-cigarettes, the history of tobacco companies’ manipulative marketing tactics, the danger of nicotine addiction, and the keys to self-care and quitting.
The 4-part digital course was launched by Truth Initiative and Kaiser Permanente in collaboration with the American Heart Association and EVERFI, a leading social impact education innovator. The curriculum, available at no cost to schools, incorporates resources to help students who vape quit and includes a first-of-its-kind text message program, “This Is Quitting,” which as of March 2021 had helped more than 280,000 young people on their journey to quit.
Learning and knowing the health risks
Compared to cigarettes, e-cigarettes can deliver as much or more nicotine; and regardless of the delivery mechanism, nicotine is addictive. The curriculum introduces learners to the activity of vaping — from the history of tobacco and nicotine use to the current ingredients in e-cigarettes — and encourages them to reflect on how much they really know about it.
According to 2018 Truth Initiative study, about 63% of young people surveyed who use the popular electronic cigarettes made by JUUL don’t know that the product always contains nicotine, demonstrating the need for education on e-cigarettes.
Confronting and uncovering the harsh truths of the tobacco industry
The tobacco industry has a long history of shamelessly protecting its profits at the expense of people’s lives, and vaping companies are clearly following a similar playbook as they blatantly target young people. Since the launch of JUUL in 2015, e-cigarette brands have also marketed their products as stylish by using brightly colored advertising campaigns that resonate with youth and featuring young models in trendy clothes.
Stanford University Research on the Impact of Tobacco includes an entire section about the marketing theme “vaping glamour,” with more than 100 e-cigarette ads that look like fashion magazine photos.
Counteracting these predatory practices through education is key. Interestingly, young people already don’t trust the tobacco industry. According to Truth Initiative survey findings, among youth and young adults surveyed, 92% believe that vaping companies lie about how harmful their products are, and 69% believe vaping companies to be dishonest about the health effects of their products. Informing young people about industry tactics often leads them to make healthier and informed choices.
Considering and overcoming the dangers of nicotine addiction
Younger e-cigarette users are more likely to become addicted and have higher odds of becoming smokers. In fact, more than a quarter of young people ages 15 to 27 who started using e-cigarettes in 2018 went on to try traditional cigarettes a year later. Through the “Vaping: Know the truth” course, youth are challenged to consider the dangers of nicotine addiction, understand how addiction is a significant danger of vaping, and learn how to quit by linking to “This Is Quitting.”
A Truth Initiative survey shows that most e-cigarette users want to quit, highlighting the need for resources to support them.
Examining and changing social norms
Since the start of the youth e-cigarette epidemic, Truth Initiative has been a leader in educating young people about the health impacts of e-cigarettes and presenting compelling messages on media channels popular with youth. In its most recent campaign, “Quit Together,” Truth Initiative taps current e-cigarette users and TikTok influencers to broadcast their own experiences as they quit vaping, in real time, to their huge audience of followers across social media platforms, inviting them to join.
“Vaping: Know the truth” empowers learners to make healthy and informed choices by sharing facts and seamlessly integrating “This Is Quitting.” Each module is self-led and uses experiences from young people to share the message. Students who complete the course will learn how to seek out, recommend, and utilize the support services and resources that are available to help themselves or someone else quit.
“Vaping: Know the truth” is available free of charge to teachers, students, administrators, parents, and the public at large. Learn more about the curriculum at truthinitiative.org/curriculum.