Taking Action on the Vaping Epidemic

Photo by Jordan Yates

The GDS website states that GDS will “actively live in [its] mission grounded in social justice.” The GDS Student Action Committee (SAC) embodies this mission. Junior Anoushka Chander is the founder and head of the club. “The idea [for the SAC] was always there,” Chander explained. “I wanted to engage with my peers and take everything we were learning and create a space at GDS that really takes our responsibility as D.C. students, not just GDS students, into account so we can go out into the world and make change.” 

Director of Community Engagement and Experiential Learning Jeremy Haft and Program Associate Leigh Tait serve as faculty advisors for the SAC committee and aim to, in Tait’s words, “support and lift up young advocates and activists.” The broad goal of the SAC, Tait said, is to “connect motivated students with opportunities outside GDS to do good in the world.” 

Chander said “[GDS’s] students are very informed,” but she often hears students saying that there is so much they care about yet they don’t know what they can do. The goal of the SAC, Chander said, is to give GDS students a “green light to go,” providing students with connections and tangible steps towards action. 

Chander, Tait and Haft have specific ideas about how to make this goal into a reality. These projects towards action include working with or starting chapters with organizations focused on making the world a better place including March For Our Lives D.C., period.org, homegirl, and other local, national and even international organizations. In addition, they hope to expand SAC subcommittees that would focus on issues affecting certain marginalized groups and plan a GDS lobby day. 

Currently, the SAC is working to combat the vape industry that is targeting teenagers. One of the ways the industry is able to target teens is through location. There are two shops close to GDS that sell electronic tobacco products: Smoke Island and Wawa. These shops hardly ID their customers, making it easy for children and teens to access products like vapes, JUULs and other e-cigarettes. 

The SAC’s goal is not to shut down these businesses but instead to convince Smoke Island to relocate and Wawa to stop selling electronic tobacco products in Tenleytown or at the least get them to start IDing customers more consistently. 

“This is not a finger-wagging campaign,” Chander emphasized. The SAC is not attempting to regulate how people interact with e-cigarettes, but rather to focus on how the vaping industry targets young people by flavoring their products and falsely marketing them as less addictive and a safer option as compared to cigarettes. 

Since November, SAC members have been working to reduce the harmful impacts of the vaping industry on teenagers by splitting into subcommittees focused on education, canvassing, an ANC (The Tenleytown Neighborhood Commission of business owners and other stakeholders) meeting, communications and legislation. On January 2, two members of the SAC, juniors Maddie Feldman and Aidan Kohn-Murphy, testified at the D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety’s public hearing for the ban of flavored e-cigarettes in D.C. 

When interviewed in February, junior Bryce Savoy didn’t know the SAC existed. After learning about the committee’s current goal and future plans, he said that SAC seems like a group that is here to get things done within GDS, backed up with strong student support. Savoy made sure to mention that he doesn’t speak for every GDS student but believes that “it’s not great to be addicted to something that young” and that vaping products can be a huge distraction. At GDS, he says, there are definitely students using these products but it is his impression that even so, GDS students seem to be more responsible than students outside the GDS community. After being asked about the SAC’s action plan he commented, “Getting these shops [Smoke Island and Wawa] to ID customers would definitely be helpful in putting a cap on who is getting access to these products.” 

GDS isn’t the only school with students being affected by the sale of vaping products in this area. Alice Deal Middle School and Wilson High School are also within walking distance of Smoke Island and Wawa; GDS’s SAC has partnered with a cohort of Wilson students to combat the issue. In December, the SAC and Wilson students met with Truth Initiative, a non-profit tobacco control organization that educates youth and young adults about tobacco-free living. The group discussed ways to spread their message in their respective schools, educate their peers and directly take action against these shops. 

The Student Action Committee is here to accept and brainstorm projects, create connections inside and outside the GDS community and construct a space where students can come together to solve issues they are passionate about. In Chander’s words, “The SAC is first and foremost here to be run by GDS students.” 

Liana Smolover-Bord ’21 and  Malvika Reddy ’23