Don Daniels: Taking Education to the Next Level

“I’m David, they’re Goliath, and I’m takin’ ‘em on.”


ThienTran Le

Mr. Don Daniels has been an inspiration to many students, especially those who have taken his freshman U.S. Government class. He’s been teaching for 22 years, and he shows no signs of loving it any less than his first year. 

But the most important thing to Mr. Daniels is the well-being of his students, especially against the huge influence the nicotine and vape industry has on today’s generation. 

Vaping is one of the biggest epidemics out there, especially in Colorado. Children as young as 15 are addicted, causing the Colorado Quitline to lower their acceptance age from 16 to 12. According to WebMD, up to 16% of high schoolers and 5% of middle-schoolers use e-cigarettes, from a survey from 2015. And in 2017, there was a massive increase, making about 37% of 12th graders vape users.

In the wake of a twelfth death related to vaping that was confirmed just last week and the hundreds of unconfirmed cases, Daniels makes it his mission to continue fighting against these big corporations. The fact that Colorado was the first state to legalize marijuana is what makes the battle even harder. “Youth education is the only solution, and that’s what I do.” 

The best thing about teaching freshman, he says, is that he “gets them early.” It’s his ability to use his government class to “blend the ideas” that reinforce the impact he wants to relay. “I just feel that if we can inoculate the 9th-graders first, after 4 years, everyone would have heard my spiel.” But there are times when Daniels presents to upperclassmen, making sure to get those new and transfer students. 

Daniels meeting with students during a NOT Program session. (CBS)

Daniels also makes sure to mention about meeting together privately in a group for a non-profit smoking cessation program, called the Not-On-Tobacco Program (NOT Program). In those meetings, Daniels emphasizes the idea of  “education and behavior.” After teaching students about the science behind what goes on in the mind of a smoking addict, Daniels educates students on new behaviors that can shift their mindset from indulging in unhealthy outlets of stress to more sustainable ones. 

Despite the obvious dangers that vape proposes, it’s hard to control the industry. “Power and money work against it,” Daniels said. It’s because it’s not regulated; it took cigarettes up until 2009 to finally be regulated because it was harder to raise awareness on the issue. But times are different now, and science, as well as the internet, give the new generation an advantage. 

“Back then, people, I don’t think, were as aware as they are now… Not only was the research not there, companies producing these products were suppressing and fighting the research.” Now, all of the news outlets have more and more proof of vape-related deaths being acknowledged. With the addition of more vape-caused deaths, it’ll hopefully bring more awareness to the issue, as sad it is that people need to die in order for people to face the true reality of things. 

By no means is Mr. Daniels keeping his advocacy local. He’s been featured in several articles, from Colorado Public News to CBS Denver, spreading the word even further about how to educate students and children on the dangers of vape and e-cigs. Having gone to several conferences with researchers, scientists, and nurses from childrens’ hospitals, Daniels helps inform the medical community of the culture that affects all these kids, from how the most popular flavor is mango to the action of shotgunning. “I’m trying to bridge that gap between researchers and people working in labs wearing white jackets.” Because the appeal in vaping is to be a little rebellious and dangerous, and the attractiveness of the counterculture is what hooks kids in the first place. 

So a message for all those out there struggling with their addiction: please reach out for help. Even those who know someone in need of help: please reach out for that person. We’re all here to love and support, and we just hope the people out there are ready to get healthy again. 

“I’m David, they’re Goliath, and I’m takin’ ‘em down.”