AUSTIN (KXAN) — The American Heart Association announced a new effort Friday to combat youth vaping across the country, including a donation of up to $20 million for research into the effects of it. And a central Texas superintendent is playing a part in coming up with their strategy.
Round Rock Independent School District’s Steve Flores went to Philadelphia on Friday to give his perspective at a forum hosted by the American Heart Association.
“The launch of this game-changing research initiative marks a sentinel moment in the fight to prevent youth vaping and protect our children from nicotine addiction,” said Robert Harrington, M.D., FAHA, President of the American Heart Association.
The push comes as alarming numbers about the number of kids vaping in schools were released. The American Heart Association said one-in-four high school students across the country are using the harmful e-cigarettes.
The research investment will provide money for two or three scientists who will work over two years to find out the effects of vaping on health.
Leaders also announced several strategies for how to combat what they’re calling an epidemic, which includes launching a nationwide school and community engagement campaign and a fund that will be dedicated toward policy change to prevent youth vaping.
The association is working with school administrators from across the country on Friday and Saturday at the forum to find solutions for educating and stopping it.
“When it comes to youth vaping, the schools are at ground zero,” said Burt Scott, Chairman of the Board of the American Heart Association.
Flores was one of eleven across the country invited to help build a strategy for schools, and the district said vaping would be one of their main focuses this school year.
“The vaping crisis is the pinnacle focus of current youth health issues, and our students are more aware than anyone how prevalent this dangerous behavior has become,” Flores was quoted in a press release from the district before leaving for Philadelphia. “I am honored to serve in this capacity and grateful that the American Heart Association is elevating this important discussion. And I am exceptionally proud that our own student leaders here in Round Rock ISD not only recognize this problem but have the courage to face it and fight it.”
The $20 million investment by the American Heart Association is 40 times larger than their typical research grant.
During the press conference on Friday, several association leaders and students touched on how e-cigarette companies make the marketing of their products enticing, targeting young people despite their harmful effects on the brain, leading to nicotine addiction. “Big tobacco has been lying to the public an it’s time for them to stop,” said Nancy Brown, Chief Executive officer of the American Heart Association.
Leaders also touched on gaps in research, which is why they said the association’s donation will ignite more questions into the effects on brain development and functioning and how vaping is associated with later risks of academic problems. “Many teens like me, and even kids much younger are getting hooked or influenced by the way big vape market tobacco products to young people,” said Abigail Davis, American Heart Association Youth Advocate of the Year. “The majority of people my age who use e -cigarettes, use tobacco flavored products. That’s because misleading candy flavors and packaging make it seem more appealing and fun to try. They don’t realize what they are putting into their bodies and think, this could be bad for me.”
That is why a large portion of their initiative will focus on schools. “We realized a number of the efforts we were making on educating our students wasn’t effective,” said Superintendent John Allison, from Olathe, Kansas. “Part of that is engaging their voice, utilizing the students to tell the message in some of our social media and parent education opportunities we’re providing the community.”