Hailey Kisner, Hutchinson, recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ Youth Advocacy Symposium. The five-day workshop is designed to build skills in advocacy, communications and leadership. As part of the experience, she had the opportunity to meet with Kansas government leaders, Senator Jerry Moran and Senator Pat Roberts, to discuss the need for strong Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation of all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and cigars.
“It is hard to believe a little over five years ago, I was an eighth grader in Hutchinson, with a dream of making a difference,” said Kisner. “Now I can say I have changed policies, testified at the Kansas State Capitol and spoken with my U.S. senators. Anyone can do what I have done, it only takes a little passion and commitment to make things happen. I encourage any middle or high schooler to get involved in any subject that might be interesting to them.”
E-cigarettes and cigars are currently sold in an assortment of flavors that are popular with youth. Kisner addressed these products along with JUUL, a high-tech e-cigarette that resembles a USB flash drive and has skyrocketed in popularity among youth. JUUL pods come in flavors and each pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.
Kisner and other participants asked members of Congress to support the FDA’s authority to regulate e-cigarettes and cigars and to reject proposals to weaken it. Current proposals before Congress would make it harder for the FDA to protect youth from flavored e-cigarettes and cigars.
Tobacco is the number one cause of premature death and disease in the U.S. Since 2014, e-cigarettes have become the most commonly used tobacco product among middle and high school students nationally. Currently in Kansas, 7.2 percent of high school students smoke conventional cigarettes, 10.6 percent use e-cigarettes, and 7.6 percent smoke cigars, cigarillos, or little cigars. Thousands of adults die every year as a result of smoking. It is estimated that tobacco use claims 4,400 lives in Kansas each year, and that 61,000 kids, now under 18 in Kansas, will ultimately die prematurely from smoking.
Sweet flavors like gummy bear, banana smash and mango have fueled the popularity of e-cigarettes and cigars among youth. One study found that 81 percent of youth who have ever used tobacco started with a flavored product. Youth use of nicotine in any form is unsafe, can cause addiction and can harm the developing adolescent brain, according to a 2016 Surgeon General’s report.
“Youth advocates like Hailey are taking action to stop the tobacco industry from addicting kids with candy-flavored products,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “With their passion and leadership in protecting their peers, we can make the next generation tobacco-free.”
Kisner is also the President of the youth-led, statewide tobacco prevention program, Resist. Resist advocates for the de-normalization of tobacco use among Kansas youth and unites communities to create one voice to stand up against the tobacco industry. Youth not only participate in tobacco control prevention activities structured by this program, but they also help design and implement them using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Best Practices for Youth Engagement. Resist is sponsored in part by the Tobacco-Free Kansas Coalition, the Kansas Health Foundation, and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. For more information on Resist, visit www.resisttobacco.org.