New vaping prevention program launched in Suffolk County schools

A new vaping prevention program is being piloted in Suffolk County schools, County Executive Steve Bellone announced Tuesday.

Citing an “alarming  rise” in teenagers who use e-cigarettes, the program, “Vape Out,” will launch in four Suffolk County school districts January 30.

“The popularity of electronic cigarettes has exploded into mainstream culture to the point where school officials in Suffolk County have asked our public health officials for clarity and assistance in dealing with record numbers of students who are vaping on school grounds,” Mr. Bellone said in a statement.

The county executive recently signed legislation that would increase the fine for those who sell tobacco products to minors.

In his State of the State address earlier this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a plan to raise the statewide age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarette products from 18 to 21. Suffolk County already enacted legislation raising the age to 21 in 2015. Governor Cuomo’s plan would also allow the state health department to ban flavored e-cigarette liquids.

Vape Out is the preventative program that will be piloted in North Babylon, Hampton Bays, Port Jefferson and Bayport-Blue Point. In the coming months, the program will be rolled out in schools throughout the county, Mr. Bellone said.

Shelter Island School officials have been proactive in getting information to students about vaping. Last spring the school had sessions for students and parents to learn about how vaping devices work and what the effects can be from their use.

Stephanie Sloane, a senior drug abuse educator for the Suffolk County Department of Health Services was at the school on May 23, first speaking with students at a special assembly and then meeting with parents later.

Guidance counselor Martha Tuthill and Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio recommended that Ms. Sloane be invited to the Island after they heard her speak in Riverhead.

Every two years, the Riverhead Youth Coalition and Riverhead Community Awareness Program surveys students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 on drug, alcohol and risky behaviors.

In 2016, 25 percent of 12th graders at Riverhead High School said they vaped within the last 30 days. In 2018, 38 percent reported using e-cigarettes in the same time frame. “That is an indication that they’re a regular user,” said executive director Felicia Scocozza.

There was a slight uptick among 10th graders, but Ms. Scocozza pointed out that the most staggering increase was among middle schoolers. In 2018, 22 percent of eighth graders said they vaped within the last 30 days. That’s more than double than the 10 percent of eighth graders who reported vaping regularly in 2016, she said.

According to the county executive, the Vape Out program is comprised of peer-to-peer education, an enforcement program and parent education forums.

In lieu of out-of-school suspension, the program encourages school administrators to require students who are caught vaping to complete a self-assessment, discuss the harmful effects of vaping, demonstrate refusal skills and discuss the New York Adolescent Tobacco Use Prevention Act.

Dr. James Tomarken, Commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, said in a statement that vaping implies a “safer” alternative to real tobacco products. “[E-cigarettes] deliver an aerosol that may contain ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and chemicals that hamper brain development and are linked to addiction, lung disease, and cancer,” he said.

E-cigarette use among teenagers is now considered a health epidemic by the Food and Drug Administration. In Sept. 2018, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that e-cigarettes have become a “ubiquitous and dangerous trend” among teens. “The FDA won’t tolerate a whole generation of young people becoming addicted to nicotine as a tradeoff for enabling adults to have unfettered access to these same products,” he continued.

According to the Centers for Disease Control National Youth Tobacco Survey, e-cigarette use skyrocketed between 2017 and 2018. The survey found that more than 3.6 million high school and middle school students are currently using e-cigarettes