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The Cherryville Eagle

Teen speaks to Cherryville students about vaping addiction; dangers

A view of the crowd of students from three Cherryville schools (CHS, JCMS, and WBBI) that came to hear High Point, N.C., student Luka Kinard’s Wednesday, Feb. 19, talk about his addiction to vaping. (photos by MEP/The Eagle)

by MICHAEL E. POWELL

Editor

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A couple hundred students from three Cherryville schools got to listen last Wednesday, Feb. 19, to a modern day cautionary tale about what addiction is really, really like.

The teller – Luka Kinard, from High Point, N.C. – was a kid not too dissimilar from themselves. He was a teen who, at the age of 14 (middle school age), began vaping with the product known as JUUL, absorbing what was estimated to be roughly the equivalent of smoking about 80 cigarettes a day!

That excessive use eventually led to a host of major health problems, not the least of which was a grand mal seizure, and his eventual 39-day stay at a teen rehab unit in California, thanks to a caring mom, Kelly Kinard, who saw to it her son was not going to  become  another statistic.

Kinard came to Cherryville at the behest of CHS coach and health teacher Tim Pruitt, and CHS Principal Kevin Doran.

Getting the students together to hear Kinard’s story was due in part, said Pruitt, to Pruitt’s hearing Kinard in person last January at Mooresville High. 

Said Pruitt, “I found out last week it was his first speaking engagement after returning from his treatment. I spoke to Mr. Doran after returning that he would be good to have speak to the student body, and Mr. Doran agreed. He’s great about doing that and helping his teachers out like that.”

Pruitt noted that at Mooresville Kinard was a part of a anti-vaping program that was presented by health care professionals, law enforcement officials, and school administrators. 

“As his mother Kelly pointed out, his talks have become more detailed and he can definitely command a crowd as a 16-year-old,” said Pruitt.

Well… duh!

“Command” is less the right word, that perhaps “transfix” or “mesmerize a crowd” might be more in tune with that the Cherryville students attention span seemed to be.

Kinard is a handsome, extremely articulate young man who would be just as at home on a television screen as he is on social media or a plain old stage. 

What’s even more obvious is you know he knows what he’s talking about because he’s been there and seen the truth of the matter up close and personal and was blessed to come out on the other side.

Now, he is telling others what the dangers of addiction, in general, and vaping, in specific, are like.

When he spoke to the collected Cherryville pre-teens and teens, they knew he was one of them and because of that, he could feel what they felt as a teenager wanting to “fit in”.

For Kinard, his message of them not feeling like they were alone hit home.

Said Kinard as he lined out a couple of sets of steps they should think about; should take, to battle their addictions or desires, “You are NOT alone! People do care! Just take things day to day, and learn to accept the things you may not be able to change. You don’t have to like them.”

As for vaping, or any addictions like it, Kinard challenged the students to find healthier alternatives to vaping, or smoking, or their addictions.

“Remember,” he said to the older students present, “You are an example to the younger guys and girls behind you (in school). They look up to you. Be a great role model!”

He also asked them to remember who they were trying to fit in for.

“Look,” he said, as he faced them kids, “please be yourself, but don’t deface your own value!”

Pruitt said he is very impressed with Kinard, and had stayed in contact with his mother over the last year through email and after completing an online form through the Truth Initiative and finding out he was available to come. 

Pruitt has taught 9th grade Health & Physical Education to almost every CHS freshman this year. 

“We do a Vaping Unit through Gaston County Schools called Catch My Breath (catch.org),” he said. “In our materials I do present the story of Luka when I discuss addiction and health concerns with Vaping. Juniors and seniors did not have a set curriculum on Vaping when they were in 9th grade. Thus it was very important to have him talk to our older students.”

As for the program last week, Coach Pruitt said, “I thought it was received very well. I spoke to several teachers today (who) got good reports from students about the content.  

“They learned that Luka was only 16 and had went through the experience of vaping four JUUL pods a day (equal to 80 cigarettes) and going through 39 days of rehab for his addiction.  

“I also felt that they enjoyed how personable he was by answering their questions and giving them personal advice on how he began using vapes as a way to fit in with others.  

“After the presentation I saw interaction between Luka and our students much like when we had Jimmy Wayne talk to our students many years ago.”  

Pruitt noted Luka and his mother were impressed that they were also able to bring in and incorporate the rising 9th graders at Chavis and the rising 6th graders from Beam Intermediate.  

Said Pruitt, “I spent only a few minutes with them after the talk, but he also answered some private questions, shared social media information and took photos with our students. Overall I think they were impressed with our group and enjoyed his opportunity to share his message.”

Like opioid addiction, vaping is a national epidemic for teens as it is estimated that over 25 percent of high school students currently vape.  

“Many news agencies describe it as an epidemic very similar to the use of tobacco products when I was a high school students in the 1980’s,” said Pruitt. “With that said, tobacco products were used by that same estimated number, over 25 percent, when I was in high school.

“Students will always have those things that put you at risk, so, what choice will you make? As Luka said, ‘Why not make the healthy choice? ’”

“I am thankful that Mr. Doran was willing to take my advice to get Luka in front of our students and I appreciate Mr. (Ryan)Smith (Principal of JCMS) and Mr. (Todd) Dellinger (Principal of WBBI) for allowing the students from Chavis and Beam Intermediate the opportunity to hear Luka.

“I think that a teenager or young student is more inclined to listen to a peer about their life experiences, and they can relate to how their choices are important.  

“As Luka said, ‘I tried vaping for the first time in ninth grade to fit in and be accepted by students at my high school.”