Middle schoolers and high schoolers in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties may see a new poster with hard-hitting facts about vaping taped to the walls at school this week, the work of a subcommittee of teens who serve on the Los Altos Youth Commission.
The commission, whose members are in grades 8-12, embarked on a campaign last September to inform peers of the negative side effects of vaping and e-cigarettes. Teens are most likely to fall prey to advertising from companies like Juul that promote the habit.
It wasn’t a sweeping trend the commission saw in any given town, according to member Mahi Kolla, but a general concern for how widespread vaping has become among Bay Area teens. Kolla, a senior at The Harker School in San Jose, noted that commissioners attend schools across the South Bay and the Peninsula, which gives a solid representation of the greater community.
“When we started the project, the conversation was really that people don’t understand how dangerous (vaping) can be, because it’s constantly marketed as the alternative for smoking and therefore almost the healthier option, even though that’s not true,” Kolla said.
The more the subcommittee discussed the problem, members realized that it was a national epidemic, said Devon Montgomery-Eder, a senior at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose. From social media, teens are learning that their peers are dying of lung disease and are still choosing to vape. Friends from Montgomery-Eder’s soccer team who live in Los Altos and Mountain View agreed, complaining that vaping is problem, he said.
“A lot of people want to fix it, and on top of that, there are some people who just can’t help themselves – they’re addicted,” Montgomery-Eder said. “So we are trying to raise awareness.”
From concept to execution
Commissioners are in the process of contacting their respective schools and nearby schools after finalizing the statistics and imagery they want to feature on the posters, which was a process in itself, Kolla said. All members of the subcommittee spent at least a few hours of their own time working on the poster facts, design, proposals or any other help they could provide.
The commissioners are encouraged by the success they’ve experienced with school administrators who are passionate about the cause, like a dean that Homestead High School sophomore Vivek Bharati met with to introduce the concept.
“He liked the idea that teens are promoting this, because usually it’s just a government poster or infomercials that don’t appeal to the teen population,” Bharati said. “So if they see that teens themselves are presenting this problem and trying to fix it, it could motivate them to quit.”
After posters are hung and facts presented, the subcommittee is considering writing profiles about each student who has made headlines as a result of a vaping-related illness, Kolla said.
“I think putting a face to the problem is so impactful,” she said. “The subcommittee could work on … either having posters or having these (stories) announced during school meetings ... where we talk about how (the students) got to that stage, and no matter what stage you’re in – you’ve never tried it or you’re already addicted – what you can do to stop from being hospitalized or even (dying).”
The timing of the Youth Commission’s anti-vaping campaign is fitting, said city of Los Altos management fellow Trevor Marsden, as city staff will soon present a tobacco retailer licensing ordinance to the Los Altos City Council.
“It’s mostly just to get us caught up to speed with the county,” Marsden said, referencing a ban the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved in November. “The work the Youth Commission is doing is way more effective, and the city is here to support them.”
According to a staff report Marsden provided, the city has no laws on the books regulating the sale of tobacco products. If approved, the ordinance would place restrictions on which kinds of tobacco and tobacco products could be sold, along with location and advertising limitations.
“The largest difference from the county’s ordinance is that the enforcement and licensing fees will remain in Los Altos instead of being handled by the County,” the report stated.
For more information on the commission, visit losaltosca.gov/youthcommission.