Take Down Tobacco Day Launches April 1st
Updated: Mar 22
Interview with Caitlin Mitchell-Schucker and Kelly Wawsczyk from the BreatheWell Action
Caitlin and Kelly, where do you work?
Caitlin: I work for Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial as a Community Health Program Specialist and Tobacco Treatment Specialist. While you may see me involved in a few different programs we offer here at Spectrum health, my role as a tobacco treatment specialist is focused on helping adults quit smoking, vaping, or chewing and educating the community and youth on the harmful effects of tobacco and nicotine products and hopefully preventing them from ever using them in the first place.
Kelly: I am the Project Assistant for Drug Free Communities. I work for the Headway Substance Abuse Coalition, a community coalition focused on addressing substance use among youth in Newaygo County. We are housed out of NC RESA, the fiduciary for Drug Free Communities. Building strong Youth Prevention Coalitions is my main focus. The Headway Coalition is made up of 12 community sectors. Of those sectors, my role specifically engages with various youth community groups, primarily the Youth Prevention Coalitions through each local district high school.
Caitlin and Kelly, what is BreatheWell?
Caitlin: BreatheWell is a subgroup of the Headway Substance Abuse Coalition. We have approximately 20 members in Newaygo County that work on tobacco and nicotine prevention, education, and cessation in the community. BreatheWell has been an integral part of getting education about vaping and tobacco products in local health classes, connecting with youth to create fun anti-vaping/tobacco projects, and working with the Juvenile Court to offer youth and parents education and resources when students are caught vaping in school.
Kelly: I am working to empower youth to speak out against tobacco and substance abuse. For example, I am working with the White Cloud Media Club to develop a video to share with our community and other agencies to educate them that using nicotine via tobacco products and vaping is not the cool thing to do.
We are also working on a campaign to stop vaping in the schools. April 1, 2021 is National Take Back Tobacco Day. All schools in our district will be rolling out our Vaping Campaign. Students will see floor clings, Headway "swag”, and magnetic bathroom stall flyers throughout the high schools. We have a great partnership with our area schools because they know that vaping is happening, and we have the resources that we can assist them to educate our youth and their families.
I heard that vaping is supposed to be safer than smoking.
Caitlin: When vaping first came out, there was a lot of misinformation about its safety. The bottom line is that there is no safe tobacco and nicotine product, especially for youth. There are many harmful chemicals in these devices that cause irreversible damage, lung cell inflammation & scarring, and even lung cell death. Chemicals such as heavy metals, benzene that is found in gasoline, arsenic that has been used in rat poison, and Diacetyl just to name a few. Diacetyl is one of the chemicals that causes a serious, irreversible lung condition commonly known as Popcorn Lung, which damages the lungs' smallest airways.
Aside from the many chemicals present in these devices, the high nicotine content is another concern. Some of these devices have the same nicotine content as an entire pack of cigarettes (20 cigarettes). The teenage brain is not fully developed, making teens more susceptible to a lifelong nicotine addiction and also to the effects of nicotine. Nicotine can affect decision-making, memory, and the ability to pay attention and learn. Lastly, the long-term effects of vaping are still unknown.
What is Take Down Tobacco Day?
Caitlin: Take Down Tobacco Day is a national day of activism that empowers youth to stand up and speak out against tobacco and vaping companies. This day was previously known as “Kick Butts Day” but the name was changed in 2020 to be more inclusive of all tobacco and nicotine products. This year Take Down Tobacco day will fall on April 1st to play off April Fool’s Day. Tobacco and vaping companies “fool” and deceive youth into getting addicted to nicotine through their youth-oriented marketing techniques, fun colored packaging, and the variety of flavors that make it seem harmless. This day inspires our local youth to create an anti-vaping/tobacco projects that will educate their peers, connect them with resources, and prevent youth from using these products.
Kelly: As a part of this project, White Cloud Media Club students interviewed Daniel Ament, a 16-year-old who was the first double lung transplant due to vaping in the world. Daniel was on life support for 29 days and his doctors say he would have faced imminent death without the transplant. Daniel’s doctor stated that he has seen lungs in bad condition before, but his were by far the worst. They were completely non-functional. Daniel is now passionate about educating his peers to never start vaping. During the Zoom interview, Daniel answered questions and gave the students advice.
I could see our students' faces during this interview. They were completely taken with what Daniel was saying. They were really focused and asked some great questions. The students will use this interview to create a video that will be released to the community on social media and through health classes at the schools. It is a powerful project with an impactful message.
Check out the interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KV0eIxV0ifo
How do you know that vaping and tobacco use is a problem in Newaygo County?
Kelly: Headway administers data collection strategies for all Newaygo County 7th, 9th, and 11th grade students every two years. In addition, the coalition gathers qualitative data using focus groups and key informant interviews. Through the results of data collected, we are able to gather both trend and current data regarding youth substance use. Per our last data collection (prior to the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic), we found that 23.1% of Newaygo County high school students reported recent (past 30 days use) of electronic vaping products, a 12% increase from 2018. In addition, the data shows a low perception of risk, indicating 33.1% of Newaygo County high school students believe there is no risk in vaping w/ nicotine. The data we collect combined with our direct interaction with Newago County students provides us with a great insight into extent of the vaping and tobacco use that is present in our county.
Caitlin: We also know that substance use in general has increased since the start of the pandemic. And prior to COVID-19, youth vaping was considered an epidemic.
Where can residents turn to get information or assistance?
My Life, My Quit: Free and confidential program to help youth quit vaping or smoking. Youth can work with a trained specialist by calling, texting, or online chatting. Text “Start my Quit” to 36072 or visit My Life My Quit
This is Quitting: A free mobile program from Truth Initiative designed to help young people quit vaping. Tex tDITCHVAPE to 88709 or visit This is Quitting (truthinitiative.org)
Youth and Adults
Free quit smoking, vaping, or chewing classes or one on one appointments offered by trained tobacco treatment specialists at Spectrum Health. Contact Caitlin Mitchell-Schucker at 231-924-7589 or visit Cessation | Vaping | Spectrum Health
Talksooner is a resource for parents to access information about substance use prevention. The mission to help parents inform youth about the dangers of substance use. Visit Talksooner.org