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UK's vaping prevention program empowers youth to 'end the trend'

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An innovative University of Kentucky program called #iCANendthetrend, provides tobacco use prevention services to youth, families and community members across Kentucky. It was developed by Melinda Ickes, Ph.D., UK College of Education faculty in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion, and college students who served as tobacco-free ambassadors.  Dr. Greg talks with Melinda about where she wants the program to go next.

From UK Now:

While cigarette smoking in the U.S. has declined in recent years, the number of youth using products such as electronic-cigarettes (e-cigarettes) continues to be cause for concern, Ickes said.

According to the most recent Kentucky data, in 2021, 17% of 10th graders and 24% of 12th graders surveyed reported past 30-day use of e-cigarettes or “vaping.” Unfortunately, prevalence in Kentucky continues to be higher than the national average, reinforcing the need for youth prevention efforts, Ickes said.

“Given a continued commitment to prevention and education in this area, students report greater perception of risk associated with vaping than they did a few years ago. However, they do not always realize the impact on their mental health, the risk for dependence, or where they can go for support to quit if they are already using. These products are setting up future generations for a lifetime of health risks if we do not intervene now,” Ickes said.

The #iCANendthetrend program is a “peer-to-peer” model, connecting elementary (starting in fourth grade), middle, and high school students with college-age facilitators. The college students help build awareness of the dangers of e-cigarette use by connecting with the younger students. They demonstrate the cost associated with nicotine dependence and help them identify ways they are targeted by the tobacco industry. Integrating skill-building and hands-on activities also supports students to gain refusal and quitting strategies.

The #iCANendthetrend program has empowered more than 10,000 Kentucky youth and has been recognized nationally. The program has received an overwhelming positive response, with over 90% of all students reached reporting they liked having college facilitators present and 87% indicating the program was helpful in empowering them to prevent vaping among their friends or in their school.

“While increased awareness and knowledge is an important first step in reducing youth vaping, we know that youth involvement in tobacco prevention and control has a widespread impact, including social norms and environmental changes,” Ickes said.

Thus, the program has grown in recent years to include a Youth Advisory Board, consisting of high-school advocates from across Kentucky as well as a partnership program with undergraduate students known as PEERS (Prevention, Education, Empowerment & Resources for Students). The program also offers professional development opportunities to provide education and resources for others who want to support youth tobacco prevention.

A recent professional development session offered to the public, presented by peer-led college facilitators, included content on the current e-cigarette landscape, how e-cigarettes impact mental health, how schools can support students who are already using e-cigarettes, conversation tips to communicate about e-cigarettes as well as ways to build sustainable efforts in schools and communities to reduce tobacco use.

In addition to health education and outreach efforts, the UK faculty and students conduct and share research on the effectiveness of prevention and empowerment programs through a variety of research methods, such as focus groups and surveys. Several of the #iCANendthetrend team members will be attending and presenting at the National Conference on Tobacco or Health in New Orleans this summer.

To support youth who want to quit, Ickes recommends family members and other mentors in students’ lives:

  • avoid judgment and blame;
  • let youth know they can always come to them for help; 
  • ask what makes it difficult for them to quit and talk through strategies to help overcome these challenges; and 
  • set a positive example by being tobacco-free. 

To learn more about #iCANendthetrend or to discuss partnerships to bring the program to other states, contact Ickes at melinda.ickes@uky.edu or icanendthetrend@uky.edu.

Explore both undergraduate and graduate degrees in health promotion to learn more about careers helping others live healthy lives. The health promotion program, housed in the UK College of Education Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion, focuses on human health and wellness, program planning in health education and empowering others to lead healthier lives.