HAYS — Sixth-grader Bailey Barnes used a purple marker to color in an “O” on Come Join Us Clean The Park, a poster she was making as part of an Ellis County teen effort to get kids to stop using electronic cigarettes.
“My father died from smoking,” said the 12-year-old Barnes, as she colored in the O. “Last year in March.”
Barnes and other local teens want to draw attention to the health hazards of e-cigarettes with a two-hour cleanup earlier this week in Frontier Park East, with the help of adults from the nonprofit Smoky Hill Foundation for Chemical Dependency Inc.
Working at the same table with Barnes last week during preparations was sixth-grader Breckan DeWald, 12, also making a poster at the Smoky Hill offices.
“We’re gonna clean up the cigarette butts, and put flags up everywhere we find a butt,” DeWald said.
The kids are members of a national youth advocacy group called Resist, which has 20 chapters in Kansas. The Hays chapter is one of only two in western Kansas, with the other 18 in eastern Kansas.
The Resist activities are the first locally funded by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment aimed at preventing vaping and juuling, which some kids have chosen as a replacement for conventional cigarettes.
Dave Quillin, wellness director with the Hays Recreation Center, was writing up a poster of Kansas e-cigarette statistics.
One in three Kansas high school students have tried e-cigarettes, Quillin wrote.
One in 10 use e-cigarettes. And one in five have seen other students vaping or juuling in school.
Hays Rec offers more than 600 programs to youth in the community, said Quillin, so it made sense for the center to support Resist.
“We’re taking one of our vans down to Topeka, so providing transportation. We’re just trying to be as helpful as we can to facilitate the youth,” he said. “They’re going to have more impact than we are.”
Barnes said kids her age don’t realize the dangers of electronic cigarettes.
“People are naive that this can happen,” Barnes said. “I think I can impact kids just by helping them realize, ‘this could happen to us,’ because we’re not any different.”