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The City Journals

Riverton High School seniors speak out against vaping, influence legislation

Nov 04, 2019 04:41PM ● By Stephanie Yrungaray

South Valley teens Sarah Strong and Matthew Drachman are taking a stand against teen vaping. (photo courtesy of Sarah Strong)

By Stephanie Yrungaray | [email protected]

Seventeen-year-olds Matthew Drachman and Sarah Strong are not alone in noticing the increased amount of vaping among their friends and schoolmates. What does set them apart from other teens is their choice to research and take action against vaping. 

Matthew said he became concerned after several close friends his age began to vape. He decided to write an investigative article about the drug for his high school newspaper, Riverton High School’s “The Silver Scribe.”  

“I interviewed students who vape, our school resource officer, local vape shops and our principal,” said Drachman. “The statistics I found were shocking to me. One-fifth of Riverton high school kids are vaping, and in some areas of the valley that number goes up to half.”  

Drachman’s in-depth article caught the attention of District 50 Representative Susan Pulsipher, of the Utah House of Representatives. 

“We were studying vaping,” Pulsipher said. “Someone gave me Matthew’s name and told me had done research on vaping as part of a high school newspaper article, so I contacted him and we talked for quite a while. I saw he had passion, great ideas and a great perspective. I invited him and Sarah to come and give [the house] a presentation from the perspective of students.”

Sarah Strong, current Miss Bluffdale and daughter of Pulsipher’s House of Representatives colleague Representative Mark Strong, worked together with Matthew to conduct more research and create a presentation that contained recommendations of what the legislature can do to decrease vaping among the state’s youth. 

“We called 41 school districts,” Sarah said. “[Riverton High School] is definitely not alone in having a vaping problem.” 

Sarah said she and Matthew’s research helped them determine some possible reasons that teen vaping is a problem in Utah. 

“We pinpointed four reasons why kids are vaping,” Sarah said. “One, pop culture; two,  peer pressure; three, stress reliever; and four, rebellion.” 

“A lot of kids use vaping and other narcotics as a coping mechanism,” Matthew said. “Kids know the health risks of vaping but want to find something that makes them happy. For some people, vaping is the thing that helps them. I had a friend that said she would trade her good health for a few moments of feeling happy. It’s really sad.” 

Matthew and Sarah presented several ideas to the legislature to address the growing problem of teen vaping including more parent education and involvement, as well as changes to health curriculum in high school. 

“I took [a health class] last year, and vaping wasn’t really mentioned,” Sarah said. “We talked about smoking, hard drugs and alcohol, but because vaping is a relatively new thing, it wasn’t addressed very well.” 

“Parents are fearful of talking about these subjects,” Matthew said. “They need to be informed enough to be able to talk to their kids. We need to point kids in the right direction and teach them before they have that curiosity fulfilled by someone else, especially companies just hoping another to get another generation of kids addicted to nicotine.” 

“I thought [their presentation] was so impressive,” said Dulcipher. “They had great ideas of things we could do in the legislation that is coming out this next session. 

In fact, Dulcipher said the Substance Use Education and Prevention Amendment that will be presented to the Legislative Education Interim Committee on Oct. 16 was “very much influenced by the things [Matthew and Sarah] had to say.”

Another local government representative, Riverton City Councilmember Tawnee McCay, heard about Matthew’s newspaper article and presentation to the legislature and invited the teens to present to Riverton City Council. 

“That day, we happened to be swearing in the Riverton Youth Council,” McCay said. “It was great because we had an extra 10 to 15 kids there with their parents.” 

McCay said the city council is paying close attention to what is happening with vape shops in their city limits, and they will watch what is happening at the state and national level regarding vaping. 

She said the work Matthew and Sarah are doing could have the biggest impact on local teen vaping. 

“When they hear it from another kid who is worried about them and their health, [teens] will take it more seriously and realize the harmful effects it can have on their body,” said McCay.  

Both political leaders agree that Matthew and Sarah are doing the right thing by taking action. 

“I think they are both great examples of being leaders,” McCay said. “Instead of just thinking, they took action. I’m impressed by what great leaders they are.”  

“I just appreciate that there are so many kids stepping up,” said Pulsipher. “We need young people to help us address this serious problem.”