PENNSAUKEN — Wednesday, March 21 is this year's edition of Kick Butts Day, a national day of activism empowering youth to speak out against the tobacco industry.

Thanks to several generous grants, groups of kids in South Jersey are taking the opportunity to educate their peers across the state about the dangers of traditional tobacco products as well as newer conduits such as vaping.

The grants were provided by the Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative in conjunction with Tobacco-Free for a Healthy New Jersey, two groups which also collaborated on a website called Don't Get Vaped In.

Cristina Martins, SNJPC health educator, said there's much about vaping that is still mysterious.

"It was put in the U.S. market in 2007, so it's only been around for a couple of years, and we really don't know too much of the long-term health effects," Martins said.

Martins said that vaping was initially marketed as a means of smoking cessation or even "normalizing" the idea of smoking, but the FDA did not grant approval for that description. She claims there are non-nicotine ingredients in vaping products like e-cigarettes which are not approved to be inhaled, and in some cases, trace amounts of lead, nickel, tin and formaldehyde have been detected.

She also mentioned the code word "jeweling," or JUULing, which according to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids refers to the JUUL brand device, more closely resembling a flash drive than a cigarette.

The kids who were the beneficiaries of the two-year mini-grants from SNJPC and Tobacco-Free for a Healthy NJ are students at Bordentown Regional High School in Burlington County, Woodstown High School in Salem County, and members of the Atlantic County Stand Up And Rebel student group. A prior survey of those students found that most had no interest in ever trying conventional cigarettes, but they also felt that vaping and smoking were not the same.

Through PowerPoint presentations, skits, pre- and post-tests, and tool kits prepared for distribution at other schools, they are ready to take their anti-vaping message to the rest of the Garden State. The students came up with the project ideas themselves, and not all will necessarily be carried out on Kick Butts Day.

"Kick Butts Day is an awareness day, so that's sort of a good kickoff and spotlight on some of the things that we're doing," Merle Weitz, SNJPC director of public health programs, said. "But this effort is statewide."

Weitz and Martins suggest that anyone who wants to stay up to date on these students' peer awareness efforts visit, and monitor social media channels connected to Tobacco-Free for a Healthy New Jersey for their newest ideas and appearances.

Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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