REPUBLIC, Mo. On Monday a group of Republic High School students led their peers in an effort to sign an open letter to the companies that produce e-cigarettes.
The letter calls out lies and strategies that tobacco companies use to market their products to teens and is part of the #QuitLying initiative created by the American Heart Association to empower teens to fight back against tobacco companies that market to youth.
When Republic High School seniors were freshman four years ago vaping was a new fad marketed as a great alternative to cigarettes.
"Back then I would say 75 percent of the kids did it because they thought it was cool," said Nicholas Rose, a senior who helped lead Monday's program. "Now three-out-of-four students do it because they're addicted."
"Vaping among our teens is huge," added Natalie Botkin, the district's Health Services Coordinator. "From 2017 to 2018 it rose 78 percent (nationwide). We know over five million teens are currently vaping so it's an epidemic we've got to stop."
Since the time those current seniors entered high school vaping has basically followed the same trajectory as tobacco use. Once an acceptable part of society marketed towards younger demographics, the use of e-cigarettes and related products is now being discouraged after the discovery that there are dangerous health issues involved including reports of numerous illnesses and deaths.
"For example Juul, 35 percent of that ownership is from the manufacturers of Marlboro cigarettes so it's basically the same thing," said Amy Emery, the Youth Marketing Director for the American Heart Association. "So you have them come out with new flavors that are marketed to teens like mango and mint but when you know that a pod has as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, that's a problem."
On Monday all the students at Republic High School viewed a video on the addictive and physical dangers of vaping
"Besides the addiction of the nicotine it's just basically peeling the inside of our lungs," Botkin pointed out. "It's so toxic."
After the video presentation 1,429 members of the student body got out their laptops and signed the on-line petition asking the e-cigarette companies to stop false advertising about their products.
"Quit lying is holding the e-cigarette manufacturers accountable for spending millions of dollars marketing to teens," Emery said.
As more dangers and deaths connected to vaping are being discovered, the students leading Monday's education program feel they're literally on a mission to save the lives of their classmates.
"It's really, really sad," said senior Lucas Hayes. "A lot of these kids are just choosing to hurt themselves purposefully."
According to national research one-in-four students at the high school level have vaped in the last month.
"That means 400 kids in our school have vaped in the last month," Rose added. "That's 400 lives that are in jeopardy just because a lot of kids don't know the harm it can have on them."
The vaping industry is certainly a global money-maker.
In 2018 the e-cigarette vaping market was valued at $14.05 billion.
By 2022 that number is expected to double to $29.39 billion.