By Alyssa Enno Mille Lacs Band Member
Over the span of just five short years, we've seen how vaping and e-cigarettes have come onto our radar. E-cigarettes are marketed as an alternative to smoking cigarettes, but they aren't a safe alternative. Dr. Thad Shunkwiler, assistant professor for the Department of Health Science at Mankato State University, gave a presentation in District I on December 12 focused on bringing education and awareness about the current vaping trend. More importantly, the presentation had a focus on youth e-cigarette users, which is a nationwide concern, as the most popular e-cig from JUUL specifically targets youth.
The data Dr. Shunkwiler shared about vaping among adolescents was alarming. A Minnesota Student survey conducted in 2016-2019, for example, showed that e-cigarette use among 8th grade students nearly doubled from 2016-2019, and one in four 11th graders now use e-cigarettes. Since underage youth were the highlight of the presentation, it begged the question, "Where are they getting the product?" To put it simply, they are getting it from their friends. "In high school, at this age, we all know someone that is 18 years old," he noted. Accessibility to these harmful products plays a huge role in this epidemic.
Other factors that impact the youth vaping trend is the way this vulnerable and impressionable audience is targeted. Dr. Shunkwiler had attendees look at a few JUUL advertisements and demonstrated the culture created as a result of advertising — most of which also includes social media. Users aren't aware that there are consequences to vaping that are more harmful than advertisements portray. We all know that traditional cigarette smoking is harmful, but "you don't know what is in the product you are using," shared Dr. Shunkwiler. There's a common misconception that e-cigarette products are safer; in fact, MSS found that "76 percent of 11th graders say that there is either no, slight, or moderate risk to using e-cigarettes." While these findings apply to high school students, that same misconception can be found within the adult demographic.
Misinformation, targeting of youth, and accessibility are just three key takeaways from Dr. Shunkwiler's presentation. To keep the information fresh and leave attendees with the feeling that they are in charge of the next step, Dr. Shunkwiler wrapped up the event with prevention steps and resources for more information and help for those who may be struggling with e-cigarette use.
Attendees included local residents from Onamia, students from Onamia High School, Mille Lacs Band Health and Human Services associates, and faculty from the surrounding school districts. With a focus on youth, the interest in the topic resonated closely with the audience. Audience members participated by asking for more information and by sharing opinions and thoughts. All attendees received a meal and were entered into a raffle drawing for door prizes.
The event was organized by Mille Lacs Band Health and Human Services and held at the Rolf Olsen Center in the daytime and District I Community Center in the evening.