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Student PSA warns of vaping risks

The video starts with a student pressuring his peer, saying unlike cigarettes, vaping isn’t bad for you.

Then the scene freezes, and the truth begins. The student breaks away to reveal, actually, vaping is far from a safe alternative. The premise repeats with other common myths about vaping, each immediately debunked.

The Mankato high school students behind this recent public service announcement say they hope it makes young people think twice before vaping.

“We wanted to really drive home the point that although it doesn’t look like it’s something as terrible for you as other products, it definitely is,” said Freya Gordon, a junior at Mankato West.

Gordon was one of about 20 students who worked on the video as part of Project 4 Teens, a school group promoting healthy decision making for teens.

The Mankato Clinic Foundation and the Gordon Graham family funded the video, while Evan Taylor Productions produced it. The PSA was dedicated to Graham, a local man who started smoking as an adolescent and later died of lung cancer.

Students helped come up with the script and acted out the scenes at Mankato West. Gordon said the goal was to make the interactions relatable to young people.

“It took us a couple tries to make it right, to make it the most persuasive video we could,” she said.

Dr. Katie Smentek of Mankato Clinic said the message coming from high school role models should leave more of an impression on younger students.

“It’s really well done, and having a preteen in my house, I think it speaks to them,” she said. “It has an impact seeing these older kids telling the truth about vaping.”

On top of the PSA, the students visited middle schoolers during the school year to talk about the health consequences of vaping. Project 4 Teens coordinator Kate Cox said the group wanted to focus more on vaping this year in recognition of a growing problem.

“They’re hearing this kind of stuff around campus,” she said of the myths debunked in the video.

Vaping among Minnesotan teens is on the rise, according to the last youth tobacco survey released in 2017. Nearly a fifth of high school students reported using or trying e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, a 49 percent jump from three years earlier.

Gordon and Cameron Grund, the student who appears alongside a Blue Earth County Sheriff’s deputy in the video, agreed vaping is becoming increasingly common among Mankato high schoolers.

“A lot of them think it’s safe because they think it’s water,” Grund said.

Marketing targeted at young people is part of the problem. The vaping industry wants people to think it’s not a harmful product, Smentek said.

“I think part of it is the tricky marketing that’s done with the vaping companies that make you think this is a healthy alternative,” she said. “While there might be a piece of truth to that, it’s much more likely to be a way for young people to start.”

Public health officials took aim at e-cigarette marketing in recent years, in particular candy-flavored vape juices. Cities across the state, including St. Peter and North Mankato, focused more on banning the sale of tobacco products including e-cigarettes to people younger than 21.

The Mankato City Council followed suit Monday. Smentek and Cox were both at the Monday council meeting to support raising the tobacco-buying age.

Cox said the new ordinance’s timing within weeks of the PSA coming out makes it feel like the student’s work is already making a difference.

“It just makes it so much more meaningful,” she said. “I feel like it’s paying off.”

Brian Arola/Mankato Free press