COLORADO, USA — Many high school juniors are worried about grades and college essays. Sophie Mickus spent part of her semester preparing testimony for state lawmakers.
The 16-year-old from Highlands Ranch started an anti-vaping campaign at her school last year, and her audience continues to grow.
“It kind of originated from some of my own experiences,” Mickus explained.
She found herself in an awkward situation one day. Mickus said she was in a car with several friends when suddenly everyone in the group started vaping.
“And I didn’t know what was happening and I had a good friend who was a junior, and I knew she would. So I texted her, ‘What is this thing? I’m so confused.’ And she was like, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s not that big of a deal, everybody does it.’”
Soon, Mickus said she started noticing her peers vaping all around her. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 26 percent of Colorado teenagers are vaping, which is twice the national average.
“When it started creeping into the varsity athletes, and the kids in the honors classes, that’s when I was like, ‘I know you, You’re one of my good friends,’” Mickus said. “That’s when it flipped a switch in my head that this is a serious problem and nobody knows what the consequences are.”
Mickus approached her principal at Highlands Ranch High School to pitch an idea. She wanted an opportunity to talk to her peers about this issue and get them to think of vaping as seriously as they do traditional cigarettes.
“Originally I was scared of what kids and teachers might say, and how it would be received,” she said. “But I think that I’ve learned… if you don’t take the risk you'll never know.”
Mickus started off the school year by addressing incoming classes. To the younger classmen, her message was a warning about peer pressure, addiction, and how to refuse e-cigarettes if offered. She encouraged the upperclassmen to set an example:
“Saying, ‘Hey, these are 14, 15,16-year-old kids. It’s completely illegal for them. You might be 18, and it’s legal for you to do it, not within school, but on your own time. It’s not legal for these kids to buy or have it, especially on school grounds. Stop peer pressuring it and let them make their own decision.’”
Mickus followed those first conversations with more. She spoke to homeroom classes about addiction and medical risks. She recruited her school resource officer (SRO) to talk about consequences. She worked to share addiction resources with students. Now, she’s pitching a similar program to be rolled out in local middle schools.
And she has been following developments at the state legislature.
This session, Mickus testified in favor of HB-1033.
The bill, which Governor Polis later signed into law, gives local governments authority to regulate nicotine products. That could include raising the minimum age to purchase products like e-cigarettes, which Mickus believes will help prevent teenagers from vaping.
“I testified basically saying, look, this is a problem in the high schools, and as long as 18-year-olds can have access to it within the high school, then you give access to 17 [year-olds], 16 [year-olds]. You give everybody access as long as seniors in that building, some of them can legally buy this stuff. You know what’s going to happen, it’s going to go down the grapevine."
At the national level, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) also plans to introduce a bill that would raise the national age limit on smoking to 21.
Untimely, Mickus hopes her peers will start taking the issue seriously.
“I think just taking the steps to raise the legal age and get it out of the high schools is instrumental in helping kids from ever getting addicted to nicotine, and avoid having this epidemic just grow and spread and become a generational issue,” she said.
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