Vaping dangers have officials eyeing more education, fines

Statewide, student use of tobacco alternatives — specifically vaping or electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) — continues to rise at a rapid rate, and one local community group is taking action.

Shelton Empowers, a group made up of local parents, school and public safety officials, is taking steps — including participating in the state’s Catch My Breath program and investigating if there is a city ordinance allowing fines to be given to students caught using e-cigarettes on school grounds — to educate students and adults about the dangers posed by vaping.

“We know the topics we’re talking about are pretty hardcore,” said Lorraine Rossner, assistant superintendent and member of Shelton Empowers since its inception three years ago.

“We’re trying to open parents’ eyes to risky behaviors that kids are participating in that can be gateway behaviors to actions that could be much more harmful,” added Rossner. “If we can stop them at step one, hopefully they will not get to step two, three or four.”

Rossner said John Niske, Shelton High athletic director and physical education and health curriculum leader, has begun the process of obtaining the state’s curriculum for the Catch My Breath program so that it can instituted in the district.

Catch My Breath is designed for students in the eighth through 12th grades and uses a peer-led teaching approach to provide up-to-date information on the negative impacts of e-cigarettes, including Juul devices.

“The state realizes that this is a real issue,” said Rossner.

According to the 2017 Connecticut Youth Tobacco Survey, the reported use of tobacco alternatives by high school students doubled between 2015 (7.2%) and 2017 (14.7%), and 45% of students reported exposure to secondhand smoke or ENDS aerosol.

“Many students are unaware of the dangers of using such products,” said John D. Frassinelli, bureau chief, state Bureau of Health/Nutrition, Family Services and Adult Education. “Because of the dangers associated with the use of tobacco and tobacco alternatives, the entire school community must be involved in prevention and education efforts.”

Frassinelli said that reports prove that nicotine is addictive and can damage developing brains as well as reduce concentration, impulse control and impact student learning.

“While some ENDS may look like cigarettes or cigars, others can be shaped like regular school items, such as pens and USB flash drives,” said Frassinelli. “These products can be easily hidden and teachers are reporting use by students even while in the classroom.”

Along with education, Shelton Empowers members are also investigating “vaping” in city ordinances and will be approaching the city’s Health & Safety Committee to discuss the vaping issue as well as student consequences. Rossner said the group’s meeting earlier this month included a discussion on potentially handing out citations, including a fine, for those caught vaping during school hours on the Shelton High campus.

“Before we start issuing hardcore edicts, we need to see if a city ordinance is in place,” said Rossner. “Once we know that, we can act, and issuing citations, a fine basically, would be a strong possibility. Unfortunately, unless there is a consequence to behavior, the behavior will just continue. If a city ordinance is already in place, we would empower the (school resource officer) in the building to issue citations.”

Shelton Empowers is planning to hold its “Hidden in Plain Sight” event, tentatively set for April 4 at Perry Hill School. More than 75 parents attended last year’s event, said Rossner, so the plan this year is to expand the program.

Hidden in Plain Sight is held in the apartment set up at Perry Hill School. BHcare personnel hide items “in plain sight” that have to do with drugs, said Rossner, from JUULs to vaping pens to stash containers, such as soda cans, on which the top comes off, and deodorant containers.

“It is extremely enlightening,” said Rossner. “Parents see things that they feel would be normal everyday stuff and find out it is drug-related.”

This year, Shelton Empowers will have three activities that night — the Hidden in Plain Sight program in the apartment as well as separate talks on Narcan and vaping.

“Smoking cigarettes is few and far between, the real issue is nicotine,” said Rossner. “Nicotine is so much more accessible in a vaping device than in cigarettes. We all need to be better educated on this so we can make sure we helping our children down the right path.”

Shelton Empowers’ next meeting will be Feb. 11 at 6 p.m. at the school administration building, 382 Long Hill Avenue, Training Room 201.