ANNAPOLIS — Wye River Upper School students spoke out Thursday, Feb. 6, against flavored tobacco and nicotine products at the State House in Annapolis.

They spoke on behalf of House bill 3 and Senate bill 233, which propose to ban the manufacture, sale and import of all flavors of tobacco and nicotine products. This includes candy-scented vaping products and e-cigarettes, which have gained popularity rapidly among young people.

Led by social studies teacher Lydia Meeks, government students prepared extensively to make their voice heard.

First, they met with Laura Hale of the American Heart Association, who sparked their interest in the bill. She and Meeks encouraged students not to underestimate the power of their collaborative voice when advocating for themselves and their peers.

Students researched the dangers of flavored vaping and tobacco, as well as the lobbying process, and wrote data-backed essays in preparation for their visit to Annapolis.

“What better way to engage kids in government class than involve them in the process?” Meeks said.

Students learned that flavors like mango, gummy bear and cotton candy strategically entice teens whose brains are not fully developed, which allows them to become addicted more easily, Meeks said.

Her students wrote: “Teens are especially drawn to vaping products because of the social media campaigns involved and the ability to hide the products from adults in their lives ... Once addicted the changes in a teen’s brain are permanent. Quitting nicotine becomes a lifelong struggle.”

This knowledge, their sense of injustice for being targeted and their personal experiences with family and friends fueled a passion for them to speak out, Meeks said.

“I think that finding a cause to sink their teeth into has helped them produce exceptional work that is meaningful,” she said. “Government should be meaningful.”

Meeks guided students to channel their findings and resolve into one cohesive, persuasive letter to the Senate and House, signed by each. Sophomores Cole of Edgewater, Sam of Cambridge and Kayla of Annapolis also prepared individual, evidence-based statements to be read before the committee.

On the day of lobbying, Wye River partnered with the American Cancer Society, which established meetings, and students spoke with or delivered their letter to the 31 delegates and senators who represent them across the state.

Wye River Upper School is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is focused on students who learn differently discovering through innovation, developing with rigor and celebrating their strengths while preparing for success in college, career and life. Students who attend Wye River come from 11 Maryland and Delaware counties including Queen Anne’s, Anne Arundel, Howard, Prince George’s and Caroline. For more information visit www.wyeriverupperschool.org or call 410-758-2922.

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