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Meet Outstanding Advocate, Gabby Ralphe

I began advocating against teen e-cigarette use when I was 14-years-old. As a freshman in high school, I looked around at my classmates and friends and was concerned about their newfound relationships with Juul. At this time the vaping epidemic was in its infancy and few adults had any sense of just how many kids owned a vape.

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Now, as someone who is going into college, my perspective has developed from wary concern to disheartened grief. At the age of 14, my classmates began using Juuls. It was all about being "cool" "rebellious" and was primarily a social thing. These devices were bought from 18-year-old seniors at my high school.

Now that we are the 18-year-olds, things are completely different. The Juuls and their candy flavors have been abandoned for brands such as Viewz that have a higher nicotine percentage, one that can keep up with their addiction, and the flavors are simply anything they can get their hands on, no matter how much it stings or burns in their throats. What was once a social activity has become isolating, and even a point of conflict. Those who have run low on their own vape, or forgot theirs at home beg and plead to borrow a friend's. People become territorial and greedy with their pods, for they feel they need every last drop. This habit is no longer cool or rebellious, or anything to think of at all, it is so ingrained into our lives. Whether you vape or not, in my generation, addiction is a simple fact of life.

Me and my peers have changed a lot over the last four years. We have matured, found ourselves, our passions, our people. Many of us are starting life in the real world with real jobs or are beginning college. We are no longer the 14-year-olds in the back of the bus being offered a Juul. With these changes, the vast majority of 18-year-olds who vape today will assert without hesitation that they regret ever having started. How unfair it seems that now we are finally the legal age to make such a decision about our health and our bank accounts and it has already been made, already set in stone by our 14-year-old selves who knew nothing of the costs, who only desperately wanted to fit into an environment as fickle as high school.

As I look upon the younger generation in my community, I see hope. I see the potential these kids have to not make the same mistake as so many of my peers. I don't want the 14-year-olds today to wake up four years from now in the middle of the night feeling for their vape. This is why we need these devices out of our high schools.

--Gabby Ralphe, college freshman

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