SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — BY the time Makayla Klug, now a senior at Laguna Beach High School, turned 8, she was put on bed rest to manage her physical pain. Doctors diagnosed her with meningitis, optic-neuritis and encephalitis – inflammatory diseases that kept her off her feet for nearly two years.
Her family lived next to a longtime fire station, and Klug’s mom eventually made the connection that the sickness was most likely caused by exhaust from outdated fire trucks and poor ventilation, which contaminated Klug’s home.
Laguna Beach city officials refuted the cause, and before the family could build its case, the deadline for suing the city had passed and the case was closed. But, for Klug, who suffers dizziness and headaches whenever she breathes any form of smoke, from exhaust to tobacco, it will never be over.
“Secondhand smoke is a silent killer, and I feel like a lot of people don’t realize it’s harming them,” Klug says. “I do. I instantly know it’s hurting me because I can feel it.”
Klug told her story, and a group of fellow students told theirs, at a 2017 Laguna Beach City Council meeting. The students’ personal stories of how tobacco products affect their lives helped get a citywide smoke-free ordinance passed – the first in Orange County. Soon after, students from a nearby city, Dana Point, had the same success.
“We’re cultivating youth ambassadors to go forth and spread the correct information,” says Stephan Lambert, county prevention coordinator for the Orange County Department of Education, who works with the local Tobacco-Use Prevention Education (TUPE) program to help the students prepare for events like this.
It’s this type of educational focus – one that’s fostered a stigma around cigarettes and helped to enact decades of tobacco-use restrictions – that’s helped California achieve the second-lowest adult smoking rate in the country, behind Utah. And it’s why health officials are now using a similar approach to tackle e-cigarettes.
Vaping, or inhaling from an electronic smoking device that heats a pod of chemically packed liquid to an aerosol form, has become a public health epidemic across California schools and nationwide, with e-cigarette use increasing by 78 percent among high school students between 2017 and 2018, and 48 percent among middle schoolers, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey.
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