With the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes and vaping, youth smoking rates have climbed to a 20-year high.

By using social media, area college students are teaming up to share the truth about how vaping harms health.

During a one-day hackathon-style event Feb. 22 at St. John Fisher College, students at six area colleges and universities heard from a local social media star how to create hit dance videos that may move their peers to quit vaping.

The Rochester videos will be posted as part of a national campaign from truth, the highly effective youth tobacco prevention campaign from Truth Initiative®. The “Ready to Ditch JUUL” campaign launched in January and includes a series of TikTok challenges, which underscore the cultural movement across social media platforms where young people are ditching their JUULs in unique and imaginative ways and provides resources for those looking to quit.

As part of this “Ready to Ditch JUUL” TikTok Dance Challenge, students are creating dance videos for the popular social media network TikTok. Teams from the six schools are creating a plan for TikTok dance videos that will be posted using #ThisIsQuitting. The challenge launches Feb. 27.  

After the event, students returned to their campuses to record the video and upload it to TikTok on or after Feb. 27. The colleges hope additional students from each campus will then create and upload their own videos using #ThisisQuitting. Student teams participating are from: Nazareth College, the University of Rochester, SUNY Brockport, Rochester Institute of Technology, St. John Fisher College and Finger Lakes Community College.

“We hope that by offering a fun and viral way to start the conversation about the realities of vaping, students will see that they are not alone in being turned off by the damage e-cigarettes do,” said Dr. Cynthia Reddeck-LiDestri, vice president of health and wellness at LiDestri Food and Beverage and chair of the Million Hearts Higher Education Health Coalition.

The students were coached by TikTok brand ambassador Chaz Bruce of Rochester, who has danced his way to 2.8 million followers on the platform. Viral TikToker and past contestant on The Voice, Austin Giorgio of Webster provided inspiration and captured the action to share on TikTok. Content creation professionals from area ad agencies helped teams brainstorm ideas for the challenge and creative ways to share the campaign with peers and their school.

Partners in the campaign are Truth Initiative and the Million Hearts Higher Education Coalition, which includes representatives from the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, Causewave Community Partners, Common Ground Health, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, LiDestri Food and Beverage and Wegmans Food Markets.

 “It is fitting that as we promote heart health in February, we help protect the hearts of young people by helping them quit vaping,” said Marc Natale, executive director of the Greater Rochester and Buffalo Niagara Region at the American Heart Association. “The American Heart Association is pleased to support this collaborative effort and believes e-cigarette companies should quit lying about the harms their products do.”

“New and emerging products like e-cigarettes could substantially reverse the health gains we have made in reducing tobacco/nicotine use,” said Annalisa Rogers, director of the Smoking & Health Action Coalition. “Prevention and education being key, we applaud the colleges, student leaders, and Million Hearts’ efforts in facilitating these important conversations. It is one of the most important health actions we can take.”

One in three high school students now vapes. Truth Initiative, the organization behind the highly effective truth youth tobacco education campaign is offering young people to quit through a text-based program called This is Quitting. More than 120,000 young people have enrolled in the program since it launched in 2019, and according to data published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, after two weeks of using the program, more than half – 60.8% – reported they had reduced or stopped using e-cigarettes. Young people looking to quit can text “DITCHVAPE” to 88709 to enroll for free.

E-cigarettes contain high levels of nicotine, which can harm developing brains, alter nerve cell functioning and increase the risk of young people smoking cigarettes, research has shown.

“We can’t stand by and let vaping companies lie to our kids about the damage that e-cigarettes do to their bodies,” said Wade Norwood, CEO of Common Ground Health, which is supporting the effort. “Smoking and vaping have caused illness and early death in our community, particularly among African Americans and those with the lowest incomes. When young people vape, our society pays the price in higher health care costs and poorer health outcomes.”

What is the Million Hearts Higher Education Health Coalition?

In 2017, seven colleges in Rochester, NY, committed to reducing smoking on their campuses through a collaborative campaign supporting Tobacco 21 and smoke-free campus policies. The efforts of this group lead to the formation of the Higher Education Health Coalition at Common Ground Health. Since the 2017 success, the Million Hearts Higher Education Health Coalition has continued to meet to find additional ways to keep college students and staff healthier.

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