Insights into Teen Vaping from National Expert in Youth Health Interventions
TSET continues to evolve its investments in public health in Oklahoma. In May, the TSET Board of Directors awarded a contract to nationally known Rescue Agency to develop and implement youth prevention campaigns to counter tobacco- and obesity-related health behaviors that are putting Oklahoma teens at risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended communication interventions as an effective practice in preventing and reducing tobacco use and other adverse health behaviors.
Heading the effort to bring these interventions to Oklahoma youth is Jeff Jordan, president of Rescue Agency and a nationally recognized public health innovator and expert in communication strategies to reach the ever-evolving youth demographic in America. TSET asked Jeff to share his insights into youth, talk about the upcoming Oklahoma campaigns and talk to parents about how to engage their children in meaningful conversations.
Guest Blog by Jeff Jordan, president and executive creative director, Rescue | The Behavior Change Agency
Teen Vaping and Communication Interventions in Oklahoma
In the last half-decade, teen vaping has become a public health crisis. It seems that every few weeks, we read about another teen who has used vape products, become addicted to nicotine and ended up sick or even in the hospital, sometimes with life-altering consequences. Recent Youth Tobacco Surveys show that teen vaping now outpaces smoking with more than half of youth, indicating that they tried vaping at some point.
So, the question is, why do youth turn to vaping? The answer to that is that teens are looking for low-risk ways to “rebel.” Some stay out late. Others try alcohol or marijuana. And many teens think that vaping is a low-risk way to participate in a rebellious activity that bonds them with their friends. Interestingly, most teens have accepted the message that cigarette smoking isn’t an acceptable risk; they don’t know enough about the harm that vaping can cause.
That’s where the new campaign that TSET launched in June comes into focus – targeting youth vaping and tobacco use. Behind the Haze delivers educational content exposing the truth about e-cigarettes and discouraging teens from vape use. The campaign is evidence-based and helps teens understand the risks of vaping with straight-forward facts. Once they do, many decide vaping isn’t an acceptable or low-risk way to show their inner rebel.
A second campaign we are implementing in Oklahoma is called Down and Dirty – an intervention designed to change tobacco- and vape-related attitudes and behaviors among rural teens. Rural teens have a defined set of culture and values and a different world view than urban teens. So, when most messages come out, rural teens don’t feel like they’re being spoken to or heard. Down and Dirty changes that with messages that come from the perspectives of rural teen life.
Parents can learn more by visiting the initiative’s website: TSETHealthyYouth.com.
One of the best parts of rolling out these campaigns in Oklahoma now is that TSET recently brought national youth cessation network, My Life My QuitTM, to the Sooner state. That means Oklahoma teens between the ages of 13 and 17 who are already vaping or using tobacco can receive text-based cessation coaching.
Why bring outside campaigns to Oklahoma?
The beauty of Behind the Haze and Down and Dirty is that we have been able to develop and refine these campaigns over time, evaluate them and change as youth tastes and habits change. That’s great news for Oklahoma. Oklahomans benefit from having a field-tested intervention, rather than starting from scratch. It’s expensive to build a campaign from the ground up, so TSET is leveraging the work done in places like Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Vermont and elsewhere. Many of those states have large rural populations, and youth in those places share the same cultural values and teens in Oklahoma.
Beyond that, having battle-tested interventions means that Oklahomans can have confidence that TSET is seeking the best strategies for the problems Oklahomans face while being good stewards of the public monies invested in these campaigns.
Additionally, each campaign, because it serves many places, is continuously updated and adapted to current changes on the ground. For example, one of the current videos, Defenseless, was produced after the beginning of the current COVID-19 pandemic to highlight how vaping exposes the lung’s capacity to fight off viruses. The video shares the science and explains things very clearly.
Parents and Teen Vaping: What should parents do?
While teens are the primary targets for Behind the Haze and Down and Dirty, engaged parents are also vital to a teen’s ultimate decision-making process. I’m often asked what parents should do to support the campaign. How should they approach their child to begin these discussions? And my answers, while counterintuitive, are grounded in common sense.
I recommend parents take the following actions to help their teens when it comes to making decisions on vaping. First, learn the facts. Educate yourself and watch the videos at TSETHealthyYouth.com.
Now, once you’ve watched the videos, you’re going to want to share the videos with your kids and start talking. I don’t recommend that. Let the campaigns work. Wait for your teen to come to you and chat. And when they do, listen.
If teens feel like you’re forcing a conversation onto them, they will tune you out. And, if you tell them “don’t vape,” that’s interpreted as “you don’t want me to do something,” which often elicits the exact opposite once their rebelling tendencies kick in. When you, as a parent, share real information and concern and you listen, you have a much better chance to get through and resonate.
Once you’ve listened and shared your understanding of the harms of vaping, it’s okay to express concern – you don’t want them to get sick or have any severe consequences. Tell them why that matters to you and how important they are to you.
Now, when you’re having these conversations, they might open up and tell you they’ve tried vaping. Or they might tell you they vape and they don’t know how to quit. In both instances, they need help, not judgment or outrage. If you acknowledge their need for help and get them help, they’re more likely to come back to you with future problems rather than hide them from you.
If they do need help quitting nicotine, Oklahoma has services just for them through My Life My Quit. It’s designed for teens and focuses on recent addiction rather than addictions reinforced over 10 or 20 years of smoking. And, if they want, you can both go and build a plan to work on together.
At the end of the day, teens want to fit in, to be accepted, to grow into young adults, and to feel independent. They’ll take risks, but on the whole, they’re smart, good kids. With the right information, listening ears and nonjudgmental support, they will understand the risks of vaping and choose to treat it as a high risk like cigarettes rather than a low risk like staying out too late on a Friday night.
By visiting mylifemyquit.com or texting “Start My Quit” to 855-891-9989, teens can connect to free live texting and web chat support personalized for them. The services are confidential and do not provide nicotine patches, gum or lozenges. Some ads for the TSET Healthy Youth Initiative will also promote the cessation program. TSET also funds free quit services and resources for Oklahomans 18 and older through the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline (OKhelpline.com or 1-800-QUIT NOW).