Emily Rice Published

Students Gather At The Capitol To Say No To Tobacco

A group of students mans a table of information about being tobacco free. They are wearing orange t-shirts.
Keeping kids off of nicotine was the focus of a rally at the state capitol on Jan. 23, 2024.
Emily Rice/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Students from across the state visited the West Virginia State Capitol for the 20th annual Tobacco Free Day and to represent the state’s youth-led tobacco prevention movement, Raze.

Raze aims to educate the state’s youth about the dangers of tobacco products and empower them with tools and resources to take back their schools and communities.

Ava Johnson, a Raze ambassador from Spring Valley High School in Wayne County, started her Raze crew as a freshman.

“I thought that it’s really important because we have a really big vaping issue in high schools, like it’s super bad,” Johnson said. “So I was really excited. I’ve gotten a lot of people to actually quit around my school, we had about 20 kids per month going to our counselors getting suspensions for it, and now it’s down to about five to 10.”

She said she has helped friends and peers quit vaping and they in turn have helped their families quit.

“So if somebody comes to me with a really bad vaping issue, I normally say to try to start with some nicotine gum or something because it can really help you cut down on the use of vapes in general,” Johnson said. “And then from there, it’s a lot easier to quit, I’ve actually helped a few people at my school quit.”

Raze works with the American Lung Association and Catch My Breath to cut down on vaping rates even on an elementary school level. They are able to use mini-grants from the American Lung Association to cause “commotion” and bring awareness.

“Most people aren’t educated on the bad things about tobacco,” Johnson said. “So we educated a lot of people. I had three people join my Raze crew after we did that. So commotion is just anything that pushes the word of tearing down Big Tobacco lies to the community.”

Johnson said there are 66 Raze crews in 32 of West Virginia’s 55 counties. She hopes to get Raze crews in each county.

“We want to have legislators understand the importance of stopping it earlier on in life,” Johnson said. “So we’re trying to target a lot of high schools and middle schools so that it’s not a big huge pandemic around older generations to come.”

In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that West Virginia had the highest percentage of youth vaping in the country at nearly 36 percent of high school students.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.