A pair of fitness instructors spoke to Mattawoman Middle School students this week to talk about the dangers of smoking tobacco and e-cigarettes as part of a “Kick Butts 4 Health and Fitness” presentation.

“We want to educate about the dangers about e-cigarettes, vaping, tobacco use and Juuling,” said Tammy Wright, who, along with her husband John, own ABC Fitness Connection in Waldorf.

“ABC Fitness Connection is a fitness studio; we provide personal training, boot camps, zumba, and we’re the nucleus in the community to provide information on generational health,” Wright said.

The Wrights also hold a “Kick Butts” fitness boot camp at the Mattawoman Community Center, 10145 Berry Road in Waldorf, at 6 p.m. every Friday from now until March 8. The event is free for ages 12 to 21, but participants should register beforehand on the ABC Fitness Connection website at www.abcfitconnect.com/store.

Students ages 12 to 18 who have attended one of the events may also take part in a “Kick Butts” poster contest and mobile app contest.

Wright, who was crowned “Mrs. Charles County United States” in 2017, said she hopes the program can educate parents, teachers and especially children on the dangers of smoking and e-cigarettes.

“[E-cigarette companies] are providing a false narrative, they’re leading the community to believe that it is a safe alternative to stop smoking, but it’s not; because it’s in a liquid state, it’s easier for them to put more toxins and more nicotine in,” Wright said.

The Wrights, both of whom spent over 20 years in the military, opened the presentation with a “Fortnite” dance challenge, based on the popular online game, then a “fitness boot camp” warm up exercise.

“We want to get them moving, get them loosened up a bit,” Wright said.

Afterward, the couple spoke to students about the dangers of smoking — not just cigarettes, which Wright said is on the decline among youth — but hookahs, e-cigarettes and Juul are on the rise, which she said is part of the marketing strategy.

“The older generation [of smokers], they’re already dying, they’ve died, they’re sick or they’ve quit. So they need new customers, and they’re looking at you,” she told students.

Wright said water pipes, often referred to as hookahs, are on the rise, with hookah lounges popping up around the county.

“It’s more concentrated, it gets into the system quicker, because it’s in a liquid state,” she said.

Wright said hookahs may feel safer — users don’t feel the “burn” associated with traditional cigarettes due to the cooling effects of the water. Wright said that one hour in a hookah lounge is the equivalent to 100 to 200 puffs on a cigarette.

“A lot of people go there because they think it’s the ‘in’ thing to do,” added John Wright. “They don’t understand what’s in the hookah.”

Tammy Wright said e-cigarettes pose their own dangers, with documented reports of the vaping devices exploding in their users’ faces.

E-cigarettes, she said, are particularly insidious, as they use flavors to mask the harsh taste and marketing that seems aimed toward younger people.

Juul, one of the newer versions of e-cigarettes, is a small, handheld device that looks similar to a USB data storage device, making it easily concealable. It doesn’t emit the “vapor” that other e-cigarettes do, and also can be used with a variety of flavorings, which Tammy Wright said masks it’s true function as a nicotine dispenser.

According to a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, using data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, e-cigarette use among high school students has increased dramatically in the past seven years, from 1.5 percent of high school students in 2011 to 20.8 percent in 2018. During the same period, the number of middle school e-cigarette users increased eightfold, from 0.6 percent in 2011 to 4.9 percent in 2018.

The increase is most dramatic between 2017 and 2018, when e-cigarette use increased by 78 percent among high school students and by 48 percent among middle school students, an increase largely attributed in the report to Juul, due to its discrete size, flavorings that appeal to youth and high nicotine content.

The Surgeon General has concluded that e-cigarette use among youths and young adults is of public health concern and exposure to nicotine during adolescence can cause addiction and can harm the developing adolescent brain, according to the CDC report.

One of the dangerously insidious aspects of hookahs and e-cigarettes, Tammy Wright said, is that they may actually contain more of the addictive chemical nicotine than traditional cigarettes.

“[Juul] contains more nicotine than 20 packs of cigarettes,” Tammy Wright said.

Also, John Wright added, “They still contain cancer-causing agents. Cancer is real.”

Nicotine can also have a particularly harmful effect on youth, Tammy Wright told middle schoolers.

“It impacts your developing brains. Your brains are still developing up to age 25,” she said.

The Wrights also spoke to students about the importance of exercise and eating right — in particular, eating lots of fruits and vegetables and cutting down on fatty foods.

“We like to educate on the right way to get fit: exercising, watching what you’re eating, looking at your portions and being mindful of what’s on the label,” Tammy Wright said.

Tammy Wright concluded the talk by leading students in a Zumba exercise.

“If we make a difference in one child’s life, or one parent who’s educated on what’s going on, then we’ve made an impact, so that’s our goal, then I’m happy,” Tammy Wright said.

Twitter: @JamieACIndyNews

Twitter: @JamieACIndyNews