Lawrenceville High School senior Katie Minera was passing out information about the dangers of tobacco to her fellow classmates in the cafeteria.
“I think just coming from another friend, another person the same age as you, it means a lot more,” Minera said.
Maura Freeland is another senior leading the efforts at the school.
“With the intent of educating people about smoking and the dangers of smoking,” Freeland added.
Trenton Central High School senior Micaias Jimenez got involved in his school’s event for that very reason.
“I’m an athlete. If I was smoking tobacco, it wouldn’t be good for me, it wouldn’t be good for my body, and I wouldn’t be able to get scholarships or offers that I got now,” he said.
The effort is part of “Kick Butts Day” — the national campaign started two decades ago because cigarette use was high among kids.
John Schachter with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — the organization behind the movement — says the focus has now shifted to stopping the epidemic with e-cigarettes.
“In 2018, a 78 percent increase alone in e-cigarette use among high school kids,” he said.
The organization says more than 3.6 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes last year alone.
“They’re not aware it actually has nicotine. It’s supposed to help people that smoke,” Minera said. “People think vaping is just a bunch of flavors.”
Schachter says he’d like to see the Food and Drug Administration ban all flavored tobacco products. “Right now, e-cigarettes come in over 15,000 flavors, including things like gummy bear and cotton candy and banana smash and crème brule, and we know these flavors lure and addict kids,” he said.
JUUL Labs says they’ve never targeted kids. A spokesman said their “ … intent was never to have youth use JUUL products … and no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL.” They added that they’ve “ … strengthened the age verification of our industry-leading site, eliminated our Facebook and Instagram accounts, and are developing new technology to further limit youth access and use.”
JUUL also warns on its website the product contains nicotine and that nicotine is addictive.
“We know we’re going to see the same tactics that we’ve seen with big tobacco, so we have to come out in full force and push for a whole variety of policy,” Schachter said.
The organization would like to see an increase in funding for anti-tobacco education, higher tobacco taxes, and more states raising the tobacco consumption age to 21, as New Jersey has.
“We want our voices to be heard, and I think that’s how we get it across to kids our age,” Minera said.
Over 1,000 events took place across the country Wednesday, including at Kittatinny Regional High in Newton.