According to numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 5 million middle and high school students are currently using some form of e-cigarettes or other vaping devices, increasingly bringing those devices to secretly use on school campuses.
Given those statistics, a group of friends formerly of the University of Southern Mississippi’s Pride of Mississippi Marching Band have formed a new project knows as Schools Against Vaping. The project – which is headed up by Michael Marks, Robert Magee, Ken Leach, James Hannah, Jimmy Harrington, Robert Sevier and Bobby Keating – is a national education advocacy program designed to help combat the vaping epidemic on those campuses.
“(In talking with my friends), we got to talking about the vaping industry,” said Marks, who serves as the national executive director for Schools Against Vaping. “Quite honestly, it was an awakening for me – I didn’t realize until I was doing my research how much school districts are having to spend having to monitor kids, bringing this stuff in their backpacks, and you would never know.
“When they told me that there are actually more children using e-cigarettes than traditional cigarettes, I guess my generational colors were showing then. It’s causing quite a problem and affecting things like attendance rate, which when a kid is absent, school districts are losing money.”
Knowing that school districts are underfunded as is – and taking into consideration students’ health – Marks and his friends decided to step in and help.
“I’ll be quite honest, what really gets me is the notion that when you talk about COVID-19 and how it impacts the respiratory system, and primarily people that are already weak,” Marks said. “It weakens the respiratory system, which makes kids become a bulls-eye in terms of the virus.
“So we’re doing everything that we can to warn the kids of the dangers that (vaping) provides, and also to put education of the subject in the hands of schools. And a lot of them are doing a very good job.
“I know in Lamar County, for example, they actually have a staff person whose job it is to talk about vaping, and to make sure that there’s a constant flow of information going out to Lamar County schools.”
Currently, Schools Against Vaping members are working to put together a national council that would consist of one student from every state. The council would be made up of middle school, high school and community college students, who will work as an advisory council for the group.
“You know how peer pressure works – an adult can tell you it’s bad all they want, but until a kid tells a kid ‘this is not cool,’ it really does not seep into their level,” Marks said. “If you remember growing up, cigarettes were very cool, but slowly with research involved, we learned a lot more about it.
“So I was very excited to participate … in launching the lawsuit against Big Tobacco, and make them stop using Joe Camel, who was a very cool and iconic figure in kids’ eyes. They had to stop targeting kids, and that’s exactly what this fight is – we’re targeting Big Tobacco again because they’re marketing to kids, and that’s not fair.”
To that end, Schools Against Vaping is working to provide information on the legal challenge to e-cigarette conglomerate JUUL.
If successful, that legal action would force the industry leader to help pay for cessation programs and educational support for students in school districts that elect to participate in the lawsuit.
“We need sound minds and sound bodies to produce well-rounded kids from our schools,” Marks said. “So we’re going to fight with everything we’ve got to make them help us educate kids and stop using unfair marketing practices, and that’s really what this whole fight is about.”
School districts can sign up or receive more information about the group at schoolsagainstvaping.org.
“One in four high school students admits to using a vaping product daily,” Hannah added. “Teaching is hard enough without taking on a generation of students addicted to nicotine.”