Happy Valley teens receive national honor for tobacco fight
Three 17-year-old students from the Happy Valley area this month became National Youth and Young Adult Ambassadors as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids recognized their leadership in fighting tobacco use.
As national ambassadors, the students, who will be seniors in the upcoming school year, plan to continue to raise awareness in on the harms of tobacco on health. Newly minted ambassadors Annabell Bui, Kenny Thai and Michelle Lui have all been involved in tobacco-control advocacy for the past year.
After a rash of deaths last year connected to vaping, Clackamas High School students headed to the district's three middle schools to raise awareness about the harm caused by various tobacco products.
CHS students fighting back against vaping trends among youth are part of a group called the Rebels, which formed in 2010 to educate kids about the dangers of tobacco and nicotine products.
Student volunteers in the Rebels organization have spoken in front of legislative boards, as well as in classrooms, to prevent "replacement smokers" as well as motivating current smokers to quit. Happy Valley leaders were among 133 youth and young adults from 33 states who participated in the recent Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' Digital Advocacy Symposium, a five-day online training session focused on building advocacy, communications and leadership skills.
"We are thrilled to welcome this new class of Youth and Young Adult Ambassadors, whose passion and leadership will help us create the first tobacco-free generation," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "Young people are critical voices in the fight against tobacco because they speak from experience about how they are targeted by the tobacco industry. Policy makers should listen and support strong policies to protect our kids, including a prohibition on all flavored tobacco products."
The Rebels organization has taken on new significance with the recent deaths and the lack of response by state and federal officials. The group says the colorful packaging and candylike flavoring in vaping products is allowing tobacco companies to groom youth as "replacement smokers" for those who have quit or older users dying from emphysema and cancer. In Oregon, 4.5% of high school students smoke cigarettes, while 21.4% use e-cigarettes.
Vaping products are used by inhaling a flavored tobacco vapor that contains nicotine, the highly addictive substance found in cigarettes. According to surveys circulated by the Rebels, vaping grew 78% among high schoolers and 48% among middle schoolers in just one year from 2017 to 2018.
Thai plans to continue to call out, holding the vaping and tobacco industry accountable for harmful targeting of youth, and inform his community on the harms of flavored tobacco. Rebels say the $26 million that the tobacco industry spends each day (nearly $10 billion annually) largely targets minors and other susceptible groups, such as ethnic minorities.
Lui draws on her experience with seeing the toll of tobacco in her own community to educate her peers on the harms of flavored tobacco products, and advocate for policies that will protect them. Rebels have seen an increase in vaping by their peers at school events like sporting matches, on school grounds just outside buildings, or in school bathrooms. Vaping devices have increased in popularity among kids in part because the nicotine-delivery systems are so easy to conceal.
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