DeWitt students recognized for anti-vaping efforts

Lindsay Steele
Brenda McKone and her eighth grade 21st century skills class from St. Joseph Catholic School in DeWitt pose for a picture with one-pagers they wrote in an effort to address the teen vaping epidemic at the state level in this file photo.

 By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

DEWITT — During the 2019-2020 school year, St. Joseph Catholic School eighth-grade students worked with many groups on state legislation to decrease vaping use among underage individuals. Their efforts included writing one-page reports to state legislators and creating a letter to the editor, which was published by several Iowa newspapers.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed legislative action, the students have earned recognition for their efforts. In March, the school received word that the class was a semifinalist for a national award, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids Youth Advocate of the Year.

Recently, the eighth-graders received honorable mention for the Iowa Student Organization of Character Award. Their project was among 132 entries for the state award. One winner and two honorable mentions were selected from across the state in each award category. “This is exciting news for us,” said Sharon Roling, St. Joseph’s principal.


Vaping involves use of an electronic cigarette or other device that delivers nicotine through a vaporized liquid and is often touted as a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2019 a string of mysterious illnesses and deaths related to the devices, which have become popular among teenagers. The eighth-graders at St. Joe’s chose to address vaping in their 21st Century Skills class last fall, with support from their teacher, Brenda McKone.

The students hope for the passage of a bill that aims to curb usage by raising the age requirement for purchase from 18 to 21 years old, putting restrictions on flavors, establishing a tax on vaping products similar to that of traditional nicotine products and requiring identification for online purchases.

Roling said she is proud of the students for spearheading the project. “You represent our parish school well.”

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