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June 23, 2023

The Inspiring Efforts of a Public Health Champion in Combating the Youth Vaping Epidemic

From dedicated healthcare professionals and passionate educators to concerned parents and community leaders, there is a growing movement that is determined to safeguard the health and well-being of Idaho’s youth. By fostering awareness, implementing comprehensive prevention programs, and advocating for stricter regulations, Idaho is laying the foundation for a future where the allure of vaping loses its grip on young minds.

Nestled east of Idaho’s capital city lies the vibrant city of Idaho Falls. With its scenic beauty and thriving community, Idaho Falls stands tall as the second largest city in the state. However, it’s not just its size that sets this city apart. According to Mayor Rebecca Casper, Idaho Falls is a city of leaders, blazing trails of innovation and inspiring civic involvement. Among these exceptional city leaders is Heather Hansen, Health Education Specialist Senior for Eastern Idaho Public Health District, who champions initiatives that strive to enhance community health.

Heather Hansen (left) joins forces with the Chukars to raise awareness on vaping prevention.

Driven by the growing daily concerns surrounding e-cigarette use in Idaho, Heather leads tobacco prevention efforts by raising awareness and enhancing education among youth and parents. When asked why prevention is important to her efforts, Heather says, “Addiction is a brain disease. This has the potential for lifelong changes to the brain. Prevention through education is so much easier than trying to treat an addiction. This experimentation with vape devices is not something our kids need to go through. We can prevent it through programs like CATCH My Breath.”

Heather’s passion and role at the public health department ultimately led her to become a certified Community Trainer for CATCH My Breath at the beginning of 2023. Since then, Heather has been instrumental in training facilitators across eight schools spanning six counties. These facilitators encompass various key roles such as teachers, counselors, principals, superintendents, and board members. Heather explains that this process has been a real eye-opener for everyone.

Informing and involving each member of the school community is an important piece of the puzzle. Youth empowerment also stands out as a successful commonality in both the CATCH My Breath program and other tobacco prevention initiatives that Heather has driven forward.

In one of her most recent efforts, Heather worked with Idaho Public Television PBS to get youth involved in the Know Vape Contest and Nic Sick Documentary. The Know Vape Contest aimed to inspire action among youth ages 13-18 by challenging them to create a 90-second video addressing the dangers of vaping, vaping prevention, or methods to quit vaping. The contest gained significant popularity among youth with entries pouring in from across the district. As part of the campaign, the documentary Nic Sick was produced, showcasing the stories of four Idaho youth and their personal journeys with vaping.

Heather explains, “Every student and parent should take the time to watch this. They have some very powerful stories that are relatable. When our youth take the time to do the research for themselves, they learn an impactful lesson that cannot be distilled any other way. They know the facts for themselves. They learn not only that there is help to change, but that they are capable of change. This is not only powerful, it gives them the power!”

Heather’s collaborative spirit and unwavering commitment to the health and well-being of her community serve as inspiration to each of our own communities. Together, we can create a generation of informed individuals who are empowered to help youth make healthier choices and build a vibrant, vape-free life.

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Inspire more action on social media by tagging #CATCHMyBreath