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Panel has honest discussion on the dangers of vaping

METUCHEN – For Metuchen High School student Joshua Bhujbal, focus should not only be on telling kids vaping is bad, it should be helping guide kids to have self worth and how to create real bonds and close friendships that will benefit them for the long-term.

Bhujbal said the fact kids think vaping is the “cool” thing to do because the popular people do it shows the insecurities of communities and society as a whole. New York Giants Legend Harry Carson said he started smoking when he was a teenager because it was the cool thing to do, but when he realized it was prohibiting him to perform his best on the basketball court and football field, he had the will power to stop.

“I think [helping kids build meaningful relationships] is more important than just telling kids ‘Oh you are doing something wrong, you shouldn’t be vaping’,” Bhujbal said. “Even in school when someone is caught vaping they are suspended for a few days … they go home, their parents yell at them and they come back to school, find the same friends and keep doing it. They don’t realize maybe there is something that is wrong with them, maybe they should be thinking of a better way to be sociable than using vaping.”

Bhujbal and Carson were among the panel of medical experts, school district leaders and educators, community organizations and resources, students and staff discussing the dangers of vaping and the emerging epidemic on Nov. 25 at Metuchen High School. The panel was led by Dr. Regina M. Foley, chief hospital executive of Hackensack Meridian Health Southern Ocean Medical Center.

Hackensack Meridian Health has taken the lead and collaborating with municipal and community leaders, medical professionals, educators, parents and students to warn young people not to vape.

The network will invest $1 million towards the campaign – $300,000 of grants to schools to combat youth vaping and to train nurses to reach students in 100 schools. The school of medicine will conduct a comprehensive 18-month study to determine best practices in warning the youth on the hazards of e-cigarettes.

Foley said research is telling them, they should be educating kids as early as the third grade.

“Sadly most of our young people think they are inhaling flavors, not tobacco or toxins,” she explained. “Consequences can be quite serious. Earlier this month, statistics of 42 deaths nationally and over 2,000 injuries were reported in the U.S. and we’ve seen it in our hospitals and physician offices.”

Medical experts on the panel were Dr. Eric Costanzo, pulmonologist and critical care expert at Jersey Shore University Medical Center and Ocean Medical Center and Dr. Kenan Osmanovic, assistant medical director in child psychiatry at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

Costanzo said they have seen a spike in the acute lung inflammation. He has seen bronchitis and devastating respiratory failure in the Intensive Care Unit setting.

“When you vape you take in toxins and toxins cause pneumonia,” he said. “It interferes in the way your body picks up oxygen, leaving the organs hungry for oxygen, and hungry for the substance needed to be successful.”

Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-Middlesex, Monmouth), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, discussed his bill Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019. He said the bill forces the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to raise the minimum age of purchasing all tobacco products from 18 to 21, prohibits online sales of tobacco products, bans the marketing of e-cigarettes to young people, and bans all flavors of tobacco products including mint and menthol.

Pallone said the banning of flavors has been the hardest part of his bill to pass.

“We are now not talking about flavors for e-cigarettes, but for all tobacco products for all ages,” he said.

Pallone said his committee is also requesting tobacco manufacturers to turn over any research on health impacts of their products.

Marketing for the e-cigarettes and vaping has been ingenious and Pallone and the medical experts said they are looking for the tobacco industry to stop promoting e-cigarettes as a healthy alternative to smoking cigarettes. They want the young generation to be educated about the dangers so they can make an informed decision to vape or not.

Metuchen High School student Daniel Schleif suggested increasing education awareness in the high school in order for students to be more informed of the dangers of vaping. He said after the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance) program in sixth grade, talking about drugs takes a back seat.

Justin Derector, student at Metuchen High School, said he believes the Metuchen School District has taken a good stand on the vaping issue with increased patrols in the hall and locker rooms.

Samantha Rubin, student assistance coordinator at Metuchen High School, said the district has taken measures to educate students on the consequences of vaping.

“In order to educate our students, we have to educate our staff first,” she said. “We brought in Wellspring Center for Prevention along with the Metuchen Municipal Alliance. They came into our schools and trained our staff, more specifically, physical health and education staff and helped us incorporate new research into the classroom.”

Rubin said in addition to educating the staff, it is important to turn to the district’s students to help educate the student population.

“We look to implement a peer to peer education program so we are planning to identify students and train them,” she said. “The goal of the peer to peer program is education about dangers of vaping and long term consequences for what we know right now and for our students to relate because usually a peer holds more weight when students are talking about the dangers than us authority figures.”

Another addition is parent support and educating parents on what the dangers of vaping looks like and helping reinforce the dangers of the substances outside of school. Rubin said similar to what Dr. Kenan Osmanovic alluded to, it is important for parents not to be afraid to talk to their kids and open up conversations about vaping.

“Keep in mind that if you open up, you may hear things you may not want to hear … be mindful of your response and try not to freak out. That is what we are here for, we are here for help to answer any questions and concerns you may have.”

Metuchen Mayor Jonathan Busch welcomed Hackensack Meridian Health and the panel discussion.

“We will take information we learn from events like this and bring back to our respective communities and really do what we can to educate our neighbors, our friends, our families and the public about what can happen when you do this type of thing to yourself,” he said.

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