Marion County Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) Clubs are Making Plans Despite the Pandemic
September 17, 2020

Schools across the state are back in session and that means Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) Recruitment season is in full swing! Everyone is excited to see familiar faces as well as welcoming new members to the SWAT Community.  A few clubs have already reported meetings and are gearing up for Red Ribbon Week activities.

One of Marion County’s most active clubs, Sea Cadets SWAT, hosted a 5-day, in-person Petty Officer Leadership Academy (POLA) training and welcomed other cadets from around the region. As part of the training, the youth are taught the importance of leadership and setting a good example for others to follow. The Sea Cadets has a strict policy against tobacco and vaping use. It is not a zero-tolerance policy, however, those cadets who are caught breaking the policy are given the opportunity for corrective action and not simply kicked out of the program. This is one of the examples why Sea Cadets works so well with the SWAT model. The program aims to empower these youth to make good choices and not just penalize them when they make a mistake.

  During the POLA training, the SWAT Coordinator had the opportunity to spend time with the cadets teaching them about the dangers of vaping and the correlation to COVID-19. It was just last summer and into early fall that people were dying from a mysterious vaping related illness, and the term EVALI was introduced to the public. EVALI stands for Electronic Vaping Associated Lung Injury. As of late October 2019, there had been approximately 26 deaths that were linked to EVALI. By mid-December, that number had climbed to over 2,500. What is now known about COVID-19, is that at approximately the same time frame, the virus started to move its way through the United States. EVALI and COVID-19 both damage the lungs and can lead to irreversible injuries. In the beginning, COVID-19 was diagnosed in the same way as EVALI, using a CT scan to look for ground glass opacity. What is the difference between the two? COVID-19 is viral infection that can happen to anyone and that we take measure to protect ourselves against. EVALI is a result of a choice that we make.    

Then the youth asked the most important question, which was “Is EVALI still happening?” That is a great question! Logically, that answer is yes. If EVALI was happening before the pandemic hit, then it would not just disappear. The reality is that due to the prevalence and severity of COVID-19, the number of EVALI cases has been under reported.  This really was an eye-opening moment for the youth and helped them to understand that just because the focus has shifted, the dangers of vaping are still very real. Not only the damage that EVALI can cause to the lungs, but also the weakening of the immune system caused by the chemicals in vape juice, which could make your body more susceptible to contracting a virus. The youth were fascinated by this revelation and very engaged with the discussion and eager to learn more.

The presentation that was used for this club meeting was created by Sarah Damien, Community Outreach Specialist with the QuitDoc Foundation. It has so much great information on the science behind vaping and what it can do to your lungs and body. This particular group of youth really enjoyed the detailed scientific and medical explanations included this presentation compared to so much of the information that is presented to youth that seems to be watered down to be more easily understood. Indicating that young people today have a much broader understanding of science and technology than previous generations because of the flux of information at their fingertips. The information presentated mirrors what was is found if they do an internet search and reiterates the message of the science behind the dangers of vaping.

If you would like more information on the Tobacco Prevention Program, Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT), or the QuitDoc Foundation, please contact the Marion County SWAT coordinator Tammy Slaughter at 352.359.5383 or