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Helping Younger Students Understand the Dangers of Vaping

Missouri Health Science students tackled a tough subject when they decided to inform students at six county middle schools about the dangers of vaping. While their goal was to help other teens think before they vape, they won a gold medal for their education efforts.
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Photo courtesy of Northwest Technical School. Used with permission.

What started as a project-based learning activity in Ernema “Bing” Boettner’s Health Science classroom at Northwest Technical School in Maryville, Mo., ended with a team of three winning gold medals at the 2021 SkillsUSA Missouri State Leadership and Skills Competition.

The three students originally planned to present their research about the dangers vaping in-person to all the middle schools in the area — targeting younger students who might get the most benefit from information about how vaping can be harmful. The students visited in-person with 7th and 8th graders at Maryville Middle School and then, due to the pandemic, presented the topic via Zoom to five other middle schools in Nodaway County.

“One of the things that we wanted to consider when we were thinking about a project was: what’s something that everybody can relate to that’s an issue in today’s world?” senior Matt Goodridge said. “This resulted in us choosing e-cigarettes because it’s a very interesting topic and there was a lot of stuff that we could learn about it. The goal of our project was to make sure anyone who starts vaping knows what they’re getting into.”

Senior Sara Eckstein said, “One of the misconceptions that leads some young people to use e-cigarettes is that it’s safer than smoking cigarettes.” In addition to making presentations, the SkillsUSA team offered an anonymous survey to students in grades 7 to 12. The first survey indicated that most students didn’t vape, but about 22 percent of the students, or 71 individuals, said that they did vape out of 316 students who responded. The second survey of students conducted via Zoom had 60 responses, with only one student who acknowledged vaping.

“The detrimental effects of vaping include osteoporosis, decreased calcium and stunted growth, which is more prevalent in males,” junior Jay Galapin said. “This information is relevant to our middle school audience because many of them are going to participate in sports in high school.

The Health Science students wanted to be sure they shared accurate information, so they started by studying vaping research from many sources including various websites, local nurses and the school’s resource officer. According to a recent CDC study, 99% of e-cigarettes sold in the U.S. contained nicotine — including some marketed as containing 0 percent nicotine. Nicotine is harmful to the developing adolescent brain and can increase risk for future addiction to other substances.

The amount of nicotine in one JUUL cartridge — one of the more popular e-cigarette brands that markets to young people — is equal to about 20 cigarettes, the company’s own website notes. And the aerosols and flavorings used in e-cigarettes could also be harmful over the long term, some of which include compounds linked to lung diseases, cancer and other health issues.

After making their presentations and conducting the surveys, the team then used their project to compete in the SkillsUSA Missouri Career Pathways Showcase, Health Sciences Cluster contest with a project about the dangers of teen vaping.

Instructor Boettner said, “I admire my students for their strong stand against the practice of vaping. This was not just a project for them: it was their rallying cry for a better future for their generation.”

At the end of the project, the team created and sent a flyer to remind students of the dangers of vaping and the importance of making good choices instead. The Health Science students at Northwest Technical School learned a lot themselves, and hope they educated others in the process. Winning a gold medal at state competition made the project a true “win” for everyone involved.

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