We’ve heard the stats – more than 1 in 4 Kentucky 12th graders and 1 in 5 10th graders report vaping in the past year. Yet the reality is, that is likely a severe undercount of the vaping crisis that is plaguing our schools based on firsthand experience from teachers, administrators, and students themselves.

Addressing the issue early on reduces the likelihood that youth will begin using products containing nicotine and become addicted. In fact, nearly 90 percent of tobacco users first try a tobacco product by age 18. But, those who didn’t start using nicotine by age 26 are likely to never start. Kentucky has the opportunity to break the cycle of early tobacco initiation and prevent youth nicotine addiction by establishing a statewide tobacco retail license that ensures retailers are selling tobacco products only to those 21 years and older. In addition to providing data on who sells these products, a tobacco retail license would provide oversight for retail stores to ensure purchase age enforcement and that other retail policies are being followed to help prevent youth from accessing harmful tobacco products.

While the Kentucky General Assembly considers a statewide Tobacco Retail Licensure, young people have the opportunity to share their stories of falling victim to the big tobacco companies’ marketing pleas to children and about bright spots in local communities to stop the next generation from becoming addicted to nicotine. Schools are often at the center of these stories as those mediating youth vaping in the school building, getting youth connected to cessation programming, and pleading to parents, local officials, and business folks to be part of the solution to address the crisis.

In response to the youth vaping crisis in their school district, the Corbin Independent Schools Superintendent, Board of Education, and District Safety Officer published an open letter to businesses that sell vaping products in their community. Superintendent David Cox said, “We need their help in keeping our children safe. This is not an indictment of anyone or any particular type of commerce, but there is far too much access to these types of products among our students. We need to work together to prevent this.”

School administrators: if this letter from Corbin Independent Schools resonates with you, adapt a similar strategy in your community.

Students: if you or your peers are experiencing the impacts of the vaping crisis firsthand, reach out for supports to quit, share your story, and advocate for state policy changes to prevent the crisis from growing in your school. Learn more about the evidence-based tobacco use prevention program, #iCANendthetrend, to implement in your school.

Parents: if you are concerned about your child’s health related to vaping, getting connect to cessation programming through www.quitnowkentucky.org.

Advocates: if the youth vaping crisis alarms you, contact your state Senator and Representative to let them know you support a statewide Tobacco Retail Licensure. And plan to join us during Children’s Advocacy Week in February!