My name is Gabriela Pérez. I am a mother of two beautiful young women, ages 19 and 23. They have both experimented with e-cigarettes thinking there is only flavor and water in them. We adults know that isn‘t true. After researching this grave issue of public health, I have learned to talk to my daughters about vaping and the harms caused by using these devices.
It is a grave issue of public health because our children and youth are vulnerable to the predatory marketing practices of big tobacco companies. Why else would these companies place signs near our schools? Why would they place harmful flavored nicotine products right next to candy and right in front of cash registers at convenience stores? Because these companies have been around for decades and know all too well these marketing strategies are effective in hooking young people on addictive nicotine products with the goal of having a new generation of lifelong customers to replace the individuals who die from lung disease and other complications due to nicotine use.
It is not a secret and no wonder that according to the latest federal figures one in five high-school students are using e-cigarettes and more than 8 out of 10 use flavors. I know of children as young as 9 years old experimenting and getting hooked on these harmful devices. It is a grave public health issue because nicotine harms the developing adolescent brain, causing permanent cognitive changes and rewiring the brain for further addiction. Nicotine also harms teens’ developing lungs; research has linked vaping to asthma and other breathing problems and to cardiovascular damage. The health and wellness of our youth are being threatened at all levels, putting our community’s young leaders of the future at risk of failing to live up to their enormous potential. Of not thriving in their communities. As a parent, educator, and a volunteer advocate with parents against vaping e-cigarettes, I am frightened by this public-health issue, made even more urgent by the COVID-19 pandemic – especially because according to a new study led by Stanford University – teens who vape are five to seven times more likely to develop Covid.
I not only worry about my precious daughters. I also worry about every child out there who is being exposed through flavored e-cigarettes to nicotine, one of the most addictive substances on the planet.
I not only worry about my precious daughters. I also worry about every child out there who is being exposed through flavored e-cigarettes to nicotine, one of the most addictive substances on the planet. Maybe its’s because I see myself in each and everyone of them. I was once a teen full of insecurities, struggling to find support from trusting adults in my community. I teach court ordered youth classes. Youth are entering the justice system as early as 9 years old for fighting, petty theft, substance use and other infractions. I often hear from youth about the incredible pressure they are under to perform in school, and deal with bullies both peers and adults. Youth come into these classes terrified and most talk about how scared they were when they went to court to face a judge. I also learn how youth are actually crying out for help and support from adults like us, not only to mentor them and teach them life skills, but also to offer love and support at all times, even when they make mistakes like experimenting with vaping. I see youth as our leaders of tomorrow; therefore, I believe in the importance of investing in setting up our youth for success. As parents, we can advocate for our children and become involved even when we are busy. Otherwise, we are leaving youth to fend for themselves in traumatic environments.
For the time being, I am winning the battle with my own loved ones. Yet, there is a lot of work to be done. Fighting big companies with billions of dollars to spend on marketing is not an easy task. Winning the battle is about being informed, developing trusting relationships with youth, and more importantly, being able to advocate for our youth at all levels of our government systems: locally, statewide and nationally.
This is the reason I am a substitute teacher for K-12 schools at Denver Public Schools. I want to be there for our vulnerable children and youth. This is the reason I volunteer at Parents Against Vaping e-cigarettes (PAVe). I first heard about PAVe through an email from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), State Tobacco Education and Prevention Partnership (STEPP). I immediately joined the email list and facebook page. I believe that when community stakeholders come together – building partnerships between schools, local public health organizations, parents, families, and youth themselves—we can achieve real change. I have since joined PAVe as a volunteer. I am here to serve. I am grateful for all of PAVe’s efforts throughout the country on behalf of our youth. I know we have made some progress, and yet there is a lot of work to be done. If we don’t support our young leaders now, we won’t have anyone to run our world in the future. Now is the time for our city leaders to take this important step: end the sale of flavored tobacco products to protect the health of Denver’s kids.
Gabriela Pérez is the Founder of Meaningful Exchange and Shared Learning Consulting.
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