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VaporLies key initiatives:

1. Connect with as many 5th graders as possible.
2. Have other young people (college, graduate students) deliver the message, because kids related to young people better than adults.
3. Keep the message simple: nicotine is addictive, and companies want to get you addicted so they can take your money.
4. Repeat annually.

In the summer of 2018, staff at Centra Health’s Alan B. Pearson Regional Cancer Center in Lynchburg, VA joined with graduate and undergraduate students at Liberty University to pilot a public health program intending to stem the tide of kids becoming addicted to nicotine. Where the fight against smoking had resulted in some of the lowest rates seen in history, the emergence of the e-cigarette or “vape” and industry threats like Juul took advantage of new technologies both in the delivery devices themselves and also in the way we use social media to deliberately target children with stunning success. By the end of 2019, teenage vaping was nothing short of an epidemic.

Our initial program was intended as a trial, and the ongoing program is a continual experiment. None of the lessons learned here are proprietary or copywritten, the idea is to protect as many of the next generation as possible from addiction. This is no easy task: we know that kid’s brains are in not fully developed, and once addicted, we have insufficient tools to help. Our best approach is to connect: connect together and share information, and connect kids to mentors so that they hear and understand the risks in a way that they can process.

We go to elementary schools because vaping often starts in middle school. We began with the long- standing curriculum of Tar Wars, but we modified the approach to address our biggest issue: access to the students. For many public schools, time is in short supply. So, we started with the school administration in the summer, and we secured one hour for every elementary school class in the city for the coming year. This remains the most critical part of the process.

As we discussed the material to present, we struggled with the reality that elementary school age children have little understanding of future consequences or of complex concepts like addiction. Therefore, the content of the presentation is not as important as who is presenting it. By using young people as preceptors (college and graduate students), we deliver a message that most of the kids have already heard, but in a way that they may better understand.

Tar Wars has continued to update their material, and that is available to anyone. We have created additional options for use or modification here. We are intent on using evidence-based data, though we admit that this evidence is difficult to obtain: vaping is new, and data collection is hindered by the legal and ethical constraints of investigational studies involving children. CITI training is encourage for any community organizer.

This program does not require any funding. Though we typically provide inexpensive packs for our preceptors with some props such as fake money, it can be effectively implemented without spending any money.

We are collecting data prior to, during, and months after the program is administered. We hope that this data will help us continue to evolve and increase effectiveness and we intend to share the lessons learned with anyone interested in helping to spread our efforts to mitigate teenage nicotine addiction.