Government

Gov. Kim Reynolds and other Iowa officials launch anti-vaping social media campaign

Gov. Kim Reynolds, Dr. Caitlin Pedati, state medical director and epidemiologist for the Iowa Department of Public Healt
Gov. Kim Reynolds, Dr. Caitlin Pedati, state medical director and epidemiologist for the Iowa Department of Public Health, Melissa Walker, coordinator of the Iowa Department of Education’s school nurse program, and Courtney Sweet, a Johnston Middle School student, participate in a news conference Wednesday in Johnston that launched a new vaping awareness and prevention campaign aimed at informing teens about the dangers associated with vaping and helping parents know how to address the issue and protect their kids. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

JOHNSTON — State officials launched an anti-vaping campaign Wednesday aimed at Iowa teenagers and their parents and Gov. Kim Reynolds said she would be open to considering legislation to raise the legal smoking age to 21 and increase the state tax on nicotine-related products next session.

Reynolds told a news conference at Johnston Middle School she is concerned about “an alarming” rise in the number of 11th-grade students and younger who report using vaping or e-cigarette products that prompted her administration to embark on a social media campaign to alert students and their parents to health risks associated with nicotine use or vaping products laced with THC — the active ingredient in marijuana.

“As a mom, grandma and governor of Iowa, I believe we have an opportunity and a responsibility to combat the teen vaping epidemic,” said Reynolds, who assembled officials from the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Iowa Department of Education to unveil a new vaping awareness and prevention campaign.

“By increasing awareness and education on the known risks of vaping, we can help prevent our young people from setting themselves up for a lifelong addiction to nicotine,” the governor said. “Working together as a team we can address the issue holistically, and effectively reach teens and parents with the right information.”

Reynolds said the campaign is aimed at informing teens about the reality of vaping and its consequences, and helping parents know how to address the issue and protect their kids. But she said she was willing to consider additional steps if lawmakers vote to raise the legal age from 18 to 21 for possessing, purchasing or using tobacco or nicotine products or boost the state’s tax on such products.

“We’ll take a look at anything,” the governor told reporters. Specifically, she said raising the legal age is “something I’m very willing to take a look at. We’ll watch it go through the legislative process, but it’s something that I think we should take a look at.”

Youth vaping has more than doubled nationally since 2017, Reynolds told an auditorium of students, teachers, education administrators, health officials and reporters, with one in four high school students indicating they “vape” and one in nine high school seniors reporting they are vaping on a near-daily basis.

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In Iowa, Reynolds said, “the statistics are alarming” with the percentage of 11th-graders who said they currently vaped went from 9 percent in 2016 to more than 22 percent last year. With some brands, she noted, using one vaping pod is the equivalent of smoking 20 cigarettes — statistics she said underscore the need for a coordinated, multipronged campaign to address the vaping epidemic.

“Students need to know about the dangerous effects of vaping and how it can affect the future,” said Courtney Sweet, a Johnston Middle School eighth-grader who joined Reynolds and others for Wednesday’s news conference. “Vaping is a reality and can kill you.”

The state’s multipronged campaign includes a fully digital marketing campaign with elements targeting teens and parents separately with unique messaging delivered through their preferred channels, including Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Hulu and more.

It also will leverage school nurses, teachers and administrators and ensure they have the tools and information to help educate students and parents, according to the governor’s office. Additionally, through already-existing state programs IStep and Your Life Iowa, the state of Iowa will provide a ready resource where kids and parents alike can get a variety of information for their specific situation.

“I want to do everything we can to help prevent students from being trapped in an addiction to nicotine,” the governor said.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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