athens — In the early 20th century, tobacco companies often paid farmers so they could use barns as billboards advertising chewing tobacco, but the early 21st century is seeing this same sort of advertising being used for anti-tobacco and anti-vaping messages.

A barn along Route 20 near Speedway is now what could be the nation’s first anti-vaping barn, Greg Puckett with the Mercer County Coalition for Healthy Communities said.

“This is the 17th barn painting that we’ve done,” Puckett said Thursday. “But this is the second time this barn has been painted. To my knowledge, this is the nation’s first anti-vaping barn. This barn was originally an anti-tobacco barn promoting an anti-spit tobacco message. This barn is sort of like the tobacco-promotion barns in the 1900s. This one is a tobacco-prevention barn to counter the culture of negative habits.”

The new anti-vaping barn is best visible when motorists are driving from Pipestem to Athens, Puckett said.

Besides using old-time advertising to discourage vaping, state health officials are offering other ways to help parents and teachers steer young people away from the practice. One of these new sources was mentioned Thursday while the new anti-vaping barn was being unveiled.

“We had representatives from the state of West Virginia come down today, and two weeks ago they launched an anti-vaping toolkit,” Puckett said. “And they were here today to make sure we promote the toolkit. And that’s a good way for parents, that’s a good way for community members and it’s good for the overall knowledge of how to combat vaping.”

This Youth Vaping Toolkit from the state Division of Tobacco Prevention is downloadable, digital and a free resource that can help educators, health care workers, community groups and parents in addressing youth vaping in a variety of ways. The toolkit is available at www.dhhr.wv.gov/wvdtp.

Vaping does pose health risks to users, Puckett said.

“One thing we know is our young people are migrating to vaping as a first-choice option for nicotine addiction, and statistics show that this does not curb uses of traditional tobacco products,” he stated. “What it does is what I’ve said many times. We don’t necessarily have a drug problem. We have an addiction problem, and you can tell very clearly there is a correlation between nicotine addiction and opioid addiction.”

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