Athletes Don’t Vape Campaign
● By Enjoy Magazine
Out of the Fog
Story by Aaron Williams
Photos by Katelyn Parra Productions
IT STARTED WITH A T-SHIRT and became a local and national movement.
When Sonya Kennedy found out her middle school-aged son had used an electronic cigarette, she didn’t freak out. She was largely uninformed about the relatively new alternative to tobacco cigarettes. “At first, I didn’t know,” says the mother of two and owner of California Dance Studio. “I thought ‘it could be worse,’ but there’s not a lot of information about it.”
So she reached out, learned more about the world of vaping – defined as inhaling and exhaling the vapor produced by an e-cigarette or similar device – and it frightened her. “A lung surgeon told me it’s awful, whether there’s nicotine in it or not,” Kennedy says, adding that she talked to dancers at her studios who said teen vaping was widespread across middle school and high school campuses in Shasta County.
“I just felt that this was a problem and the only thing I could think was get shirts made and promote it and make kids see this is not cool,” Kennedy says. Reluctantly, Kennedy’s son, Ryder, wore the shirt – which simply says “Athletes Don’t Vape” – to Sequoia Middle School with two more tucked in his backpack in case anyone wanted one.
They were a hit. She offered the shirts to all comers on social media. The hit became a sensation. “The post went crazy; people were sharing and reaching out to me,” Kennedy says.
Then CNN picked up on it and featured her in a story it aired in December. “It was overwhelming,” she says. But she learned, quickly, that the message was something both kids and parents could get behind.
Athletes Don’t Vape partnered with the Shasta County Tobacco Education Coalition to help spread that message, produced more T-shirts and held a second photo shoot attended by more than 100 athletes from schools across Shasta County. The athletes from a wide array of sports showed up to the McConnell Foundation on a recent weekend to take photos, talk to the media, hang out, listen to a DJ, drink Dutch Bros. and continue to spread the message. Participants brought their helmets, balls, snowboards, chaps and pom poms to be photographed wearing the shirts with the positive peer pressure message.
“This is important,” says Kayley May, a Foothill student and softball player who participated in the photo shoot. “It’s so new that we don’t really know the long-term impact it has on your health, but I feel we’re going to learn that it’s just the same thing as cigarettes.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 10 million youth aged 12-17 are at risk for using e-cigarettes and they’re the most commonly used tobacco product used by school-aged children. The CDC estimates one in six high school students used an e-cigarette in the past month and more than 25 percent of middle schoolers.
Vape pens and Juuls are small devices easily hidden and can often be used in plain sight, including the school bathroom and even classrooms, since the vapor cloud quickly dissipates. They heat e-liquid or juice – sometimes without nicotine – that’s inhaled and exhaled as a quick-dissolving vapor. Vaping doesn’t produce smoke, or the smell, like a tobacco cigarette.
Foothill quarterback Jayden Gordon, who recently signed a Division I scholarship offer to play at Idaho State, has participated in both photo shoot events and likes the message of Athletes Don’t Vape.
“Every time you walk in the bathroom (at school), you see kids vaping,” he says. “I think the message coming from athletes and teenagers to other teenagers will have the biggest effect.” Alex Beltran, a varsity football player at Shasta who has tried vaping, agreed with Gordon. “I remember when I played pee-wee football and looked up to all the older guys,” Beltran says. “I know that I have a platform to help shape how those younger guys act. If I looked up to them, I know there are kids looking at me and it’s important to let them know they don’t have to vape.”
Kennedy says society has done a good job of educating kids on the dangers of drugs, alcohol and tobacco, but the vaping trend is so new that a lack of information or misinformation can have harmful and lasting effects. “There’s a lot of statistics coming out about just how bad vaping is,” she says. “That’s why I got so hyper about it. These kids often have no idea what kind of chemicals they’re putting in their body.”•
Pictured: Jayden Gordon, Foothill High School, Alyssa Pope (Shasta High School), Sonya Kennedy with sons Ryder and Braxton, Kyrstlynn Bishop (West Valley High School), Rowdy Seaters (Anderson High School).