For the past year, tobacco prevention specialists at RiverStone Health have offered a tobacco education program to middle and high school students in Yellowstone County. Designed for students who have been cited by school or law enforcement officials for underage tobacco use, the core curriculum comes from the American Lung Association.
The course, known as InDepth (Intervention for Nicotine Dependence: Education, Prevention, Tobacco and Health), is described as an “alternative to suspension or citation that helps schools and communities address the teen vaping problem in a more supportive way.” InDepth is an interactive program with a focus on education about e-cigarette use, nicotine dependence, alternatives to tobacco use, and planning for a healthier future.
We have learned a great deal from our students through this program, including, for example, the three most common reasons our young people use e-cigarettes:
1. Friends or family members are smoking or using e-cigarettes
2. Students are enticed by flavors such as mint, candy, fruit or chocolate
3. Many incorrectly believe that “vaping,” a somewhat glamorized word coined by the tobacco industry, is less harmful than other forms of tobacco.
Students report using e-cigarettes in the form of cartridges as well as disposable or refillable products. In our InDepth sessions, they have been surprised when calculating the monthly and annual costs associated with their use.
Throughout the InDepth class, students are asked to report which aspects of the program are having the greatest effect on them. These are some of their most common responses:
• The addictive nature of nicotine and other e-cigarette components, and a realization that they might be actually be addicted themselves.
• The money spent on advertising tobacco products in Montana ($31.5 million annually) versus Montana’s tobacco-related health care costs of $440 million per year.
• The intentional manipulation of young people by big tobacco companies and vape vendors, including targeted advertising and product placement.
• The 67 identified toxic chemicals and heavy metals contained in vape products, and the understanding that e-cigarettes contain aerosol and not harmless water vapor as they were led to believe.
• The devastating impact of tobacco and vaping products on their lungs, brain development and mental health.
• The impact of second-hand vaping on other humans and pets in their lives.
Currently, with limited class sizes due to COVID-19 restrictions, we are challenged to keep up with the number of students who are being referred to the InDepth program. We will continue to devise new approaches in delivering this important information, which seems to be making a tangible difference in our community.
For students ages 12 to 17 who are interested in learning more about cessation, we recommend the My Life My Quit program, which can be accessed by texting “Start My Quit” to 855-891-9989 or calling that number to have a conversation with a coach.
For more information about the InDepth program, please contact our tobacco prevention specialists at 406-247-3200.
Kathy Sabol, population health manager in the Health Promotion Division of RiverStone Health, can be reached at 406-651-6437.