LEWISTON — A locally coordinated effort aimed at curbing youth vaping wrapped up last fall and now the organizers are a few weeks out from learning how their public health campaign has made a difference.

St. Mary’s Health System, Central Maine Healthcare and Healthy Androscoggin, the county’s community health coalition, worked together to address the rising use of e-cigarette and vaping products among Maine youth through a social media campaign, logo contest and other outreach efforts.

Every two years, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services partners with the Department of Education to conduct the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, which surveys students in grades 5 through 12 on their behaviors and attitudes toward several health factors, including tobacco, alcohol and drug use, mental well-being and physical activity.

The networks decided to focus on tobacco prevention and awareness given the results of the 2019 survey and the results of the Maine Shared Community Health Needs Assessment for Androscoggin County from the same year. Both reports were published in 2020.

“We were really stunned to see the data from the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, which said that, at that point, pretty much one in two — 45% — of high school students in Maine had used e-cigarettes,” Elizabeth Keene, St. Mary’s vice president of mission integration, said earlier this week.

“And not only that, but more than half of them did not believe that e-cigarettes contained any nicotine. So they were not aware that they were using this highly, highly addictive substance.”


Corrie Brown, Healthy Androscoggin’s executive director, said that her organization has received funding from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to work on tobacco prevention since 1995.

Tobacco products look much different than they did nearly 30 years ago, she said.

“Back in 1995, it was mostly combustible cigarettes,” Brown said, and many people may still think of those when thinking about tobacco.

But since e-cigarettes, and in particular vape products like Juul, came to market about 10 years ago and exploded in popularity over the past five years, traditional cigarettes have been replaced by these electronic nicotine delivery systems, Brown said.

“Now, it is the most used product, especially among youth,” she said.

According to the 2019 MIHYS, about 45% of high school students in Androscoggin County and across the state said they have tried a vape product. Nearly 30% of students said they had used a vape product at least once during the month prior.


More than half responded that the last time they used a vape product, it contained nicotine.

Two years earlier, about 33% of high school students in Androscoggin County and in Maine said they had tried a vape product; 14-15% said they had used a vape product within the 30 days prior. Between a fifth and a quarter of students said the products they used last contained nicotine.

“We know from data from different surveys that, you know, 80% of the youth who do smoke your traditional cigarettes started with a vape and specifically a flavored vape,” Brown said. “So it really sort of leads (or) they may be starting with that. But they’re also transitioning to a traditional cigarette, which we know (is) the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S.”

Keene, from St. Mary’s, said the group had heard, especially from school counselors, that there was an “exponential increase in vaping” during the pandemic.

“Students were doing it as a way to cope with the stress they were feeling,” she said.

St. Mary’s Health System, Central Maine Healthcare and Healthy Androscoggin worked together to create a social media campaign and run a logo contest to bring awareness to the dangers of vaping. Lewiston High School student Austin Bouchard created the winning design. Submitted photo

With the help of a $10,000 grant from St. Mary’s parent company, Massachusetts-based Covenant Health, the group launched a social media campaign in the spring of 2021 targeted at parents and their children to bring awareness to the dangers of vaping and other nicotine products and to provide guidance on how to lower or quit use of them.


This past fall, they also ran a contest for high school students to design a logo that would go on various products and materials. Twenty-six students from Lewiston, Edward Little and Lisbon high schools and St. Dominic Academy participated.

Winner Austin Bouchard of Lewiston High School wrote in his submission that “people try to pass off vape as an everyday thing and this is simply not true; it is just as harmful as smoking cigarettes and other tobacco.”

He used a bear trap in his design because “they activate very quickly and are vicious-looking,” and he wanted to communicate the idea that vaping is “a very scary thing that should not be messed with.”

Brown, from Healthy Androscoggin, said they are a few weeks out from receiving the data from the 2021 MIYHS, which will help the group gauge the success of campaign. Its impact will likely unfold over the course of many years as the coalition continues its work to bring more public awareness.

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