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Nearly 700 students from across West Virginia attended the Raze Youth Summit on Wednesday morning to learn about the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping.
Raze is a youth-led movement against the tobacco industry. Attendees are between the ages of 11 and 18 years old.
The program is funded and facilitated by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, the Center for Disease Control Prevention and the American Lung Association (ALA).
Students and educators gathered at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center for activities and educational sessions aimed at curbing smoking rates among teens.
Participants had the opportunity to have special effects makeup show how smoking would affect their aging process. The session was called “The Unfiltered Truth: The Physical Toll of Nicotine,” and featured special effects makeup artist, RJ Haddy. Haddy was a finalist on the Syfy Network’s reality television game show, “Face Off.”
One of the hundreds of attendees was Indy Tupa, a Raze Ambassador from Mineral County. She said Raze taught her ways to help her father quit smoking.
“I offered my dad those like links and those resources from like, the RAZE website, and like, alternatives to smoking, like chewing gum, or just like snacking on stuff,” Tupa said. “And that really helped him quit.”
In West Virginia, 22 percent of adults smoke and nearly 41 percent of high school students use a tobacco product, according to the ALA’s 2023 State of Tobacco report.
Tupa also said her school did not have working vape detectors in the bathrooms for about three years.
“My crew really pushed to get those working again, because vaping is a huge problem in my school,” Tupa said. “Not vaping has like really like opened my eyes to like how bad it is for people who do vape because like their throat always hurts, and they’re always coughing, and I just hear them complaining about how like sick they feel all the time.”
Jaxson Walker is a State Ambassador for Raze. He joined his Wyoming County school’s Raze crew in middle school and quickly rose up through the ranks of ambassadors.
“My fifth grade year, they asked us like to sign up for Raze, so I signed up, and then I never really realized how deep I was gonna dive into Raze, becoming a junior ambassador my eighth grade year,” Walker said.
As a State Ambassador, Walker had responsibilities to fulfill during the Summit. He and other ambassadors have been planning the event since the beginning of the year.
“I have a couple like topics I think are big today, and I think that would be peer pressure,” Walker said. “Whenever someone’s peer pressuring you into vaping or something. And then the other is people need to learn the effect a secondhand smoker can have on someone.”
Walker said he feels judged by his peers sometimes, but he just wants them to stop using nicotine products.
“You feel judged sometimes I feel like there’s been people that have judged me but I really don’t care,” Walker said. “Most people that are in it (Raze), we really just want you to quit because by the time you get older, you don’t realize it now you think, ‘Oh it feels good,’ but it’s gonna affect you really badly. I know several people in my county who have died of lung cancer I know people in my school who have vaped and just want them to quit.”
Walker called Raze events a safe space for teens like him to foster community.
“We talk with each other,” Walker said. “It’s like a little community. We have ideas. It’s just a great place to be and it’s a great club to be in. I encourage everyone to get into it. Go to your local high school, go to whatever, just get involved.”
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.