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West Hartford Forum Will Encourage Discussion on Ways to Combat Vaping Abuse

The amount of nicotine in one Juul pod is about the same as in a pack of cigarettes. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

West Hartford Public Schools, the Conard and Hall PTOs, and the Community of Concern are teaming up to offer a forum on Jan. 31 for parents on the growing problem of teen vaping.

A group of Conard students had a discussion about teen vaping with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal last fall. A forum on teen vaping will be held on Jan. 31. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

Teen vaping is a rapidly growing problem, and while there are initiatives being taken on the legislative side to restrict access to vaping products, West Hartford Public Schools are taking a proactive role to make parents – and teens – more aware of the dangers of e-cigarettes.

“Our approach is to help educate parents to stop the behavior or hopefully prevent kids from starting,” said Carol Lorenzo, co-president of the Conard High School PTO.

The Connecticut Department of Public Health released a study in October 2018, indicating that the number of high school students using e-cigarettes more than doubled between 2015 and 2017. The study showed that overall 14.7 percent of high school students reported use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) – and among high school seniors, 20 percent use ENDS. Public health officials believe those numbers have likely grown since the study concluded.

According to the Department of Public Health, one Juul “pod” contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, and many teens report that they use one pod per day. The devices, which look similar to a USB drive, are small and easy to conceal. Across the state, teachers have reported that students have even vaped during class.

The forum, which will take place on Jan. 31, from 7- 8:30 p.m. in Room 169 at Conard High School, will include advice on how families can talk to their teens about vaping, and what West Hartford’s schools are doing to both educate students and deter the behavior. The discussion will also highlight what happens when students are caught vaping at school  – which includes not just discipline measures but also preventive education.

The panel discussion will include West Hartford Police Department School Resource Officers Amanda Martin and James Mahoney, Conard Principal Julio Duarte, Hall Principal Dan Zittoun, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr. Lisa Namerow, and West Hartford Prevention Partnership Coordinator Ken Plourd. Dr. Andy Morrow, assistant superintendent for administration, will serve as moderator.

The PTOs and West Hartford Prevention Partnership will also provide handouts for attendees.

Following a panel presentation, there will be plenty of opportunity for questions and answers, Lorenzo said.

After the Department of Public Health Study was released last fall, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal visited Conard High School to speak with a group of students about vaping. While some of the students shared their concern about the rise of vaping and saw it as a problem, others considered vaping “not a big deal,” and claimed it was preferable to smoking cigarettes, which many fewer teens do today.

Blumenthal, however, said that while he understands the purpose of e-cigarettes in helping adults quit smoking, the skyrocketing rates of teen vaping in the state should serve as a call to action for the FDA to safeguard public health through the Tobacco Control Act. “These numbers are no accident. They represent a coordinated, concerted campaign on behalf of Juul and other e-cigarette manufacturers to repackage and rebrand nicotine for a youth market. This is ‘Joe Camel’ all over again, and we cannot sit by the sidelines and watch as our children are lured into a lifetime of addiction. The time is now for real action, not rhetoric or reliance on industry promises – including an immediate ban on all flavored e-cigarettes,” Blumenthal said in a statement last fall.

On Jan, 8, West Hartford’s legislative delegation, in conjunction with the schools and the State Department of Public Health, also held a forum on vaping hosted by State Rep. Derek Slap, who is co-introducing several pieces of bipartisan legislation to address teen vaping.

Carol Blanks, chair of West Hartford Board of Education, and West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor, issued the following joint statement in advance of the Jan. 8 forum: “The safety and health of our students and young residents is of the utmost importance to us as elected leaders in West Hartford. This trend of rapidly increasing use of e-cigarettes among teens is of serious concern. [We] appreciate Rep. Slap’s leadership on bringing state and local leaders together to discuss this important issue.”

Lorenzo is hopeful that there will be a large turnout at the Jan. 31 forum to discuss this alarming problem.

The Jan. 31 forum at Conard is free and open to all, with no registration required. It is being sponsored by West Hartford Public Schools, the Hall and Conard PTOs, and the Community of Concern.

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