News and Events

Not a Lab Rat E-Cigarette Awareness Campaign Highlighted for Kick Butts Day
March 20, 2019

The Florida Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) program has spent two decades creating innovative and impactful awareness campaigns to educate young people about the predatory marketing practices and targeting of youth by the tobacco industry. The birthplace of the original truth campaign, Florida’s program has made a name for itself by continuously calling out “Big Tobacco” for bad behavior.

Most recently, Electronic Nicotine Delivery Devices (ENDS) (commonly called e-cigarettes or vapes) have exploded in popularity among youth across the nation. Florida has made significant progress and is leading the nation in reducing youth cigarette use, but usage of electronic cigarettes is rising at an alarming rate. The 2018 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey found that 28.8% of youth in Levy County ages 11-17 have ever tried electronic vaping, compared to 5.8% who reported ever trying these products in 2012.

The tobacco industry’s marketing of JUUL, a new ENDS device with high youth appeal and availability in kid-friendly flavors, has contributed significantly to the rapid rise in usage of these products among youth. JUUL “pods” (the plastic reservoir for the liquid nicotine salts) contain a full cigarette pack’s worth of nicotine, making these discreet devices highly addictive to the developing youth brain. Advertisements for these sleek products are prominently placed in retail locations and online. They are affordable – online, a starter kit with 4 “pods” sells for around $50 and refills of 4 “pods” cost around $16

The Florida SWAT Program has identified ENDS as a priority area for education and outreach and the state’s 16-member Youth Advocacy Board has created a clever awareness campaign called “Not a Lab Rat.” This campaign is designed to raise awareness among youth about the myths and facts about ENDS, the dangerously addictive levels of nicotine and chemicals in some ENDS products, and the strategies the tobacco industry uses to recruit teens and promote these products, such as sweet flavoring and trendy social media messaging.

For Kick Butts Day on March 20th this year, the Levy SWAT Program is supporting a statewide effort to collect statements from youth on postcards about why they are not going to be “lab rats” for the tobacco industry in testing out these new products that are highly addictive and contain dangerous chemicals, whose long-term health effects on the body are largely unknown. The SWAT members plan to mail these postcards to the makers of JUUL in California to make a bold statement about how they feel about being targeted with addiction.

“I think the activity is a great way for SWAT members to express their frustration with the tobacco industry. E-cigarettes are brand new and no one knows every chemical in them. We don’t know the long-term health problems it will cause,” says Emma Ronchetti, a statewide SWAT Youth Advocacy Board member from Levy County. She continued, “By saying ‘I am Not a Lab Rat’ we mean that we will not be used like rats in an experiment by using these e-cigarettes. I think this campaign will also help parents and community members to be aware of the growing vaping epidemic.”

SWAT members will also be planning other awareness events at schools and in the communities of Levy County throughout the year with the theme of “Not a Lab Rat” to raise as much awareness as possible among young people about the importance of not using these products. The method of obtaining the addiction for young people may have changed from combustible tobacco to modern vaping devices, but the fact remains that an entire generation’s future of being free from the addiction of nicotine is at stake.