By Laurie Herrick, Preventionist
For the past nine years, the Coalition for Healthy Communities, an initiative of the Wellspring Center for Prevention, has hosted a creative expression contest for middle school students. In the past, the contest focused on the misuse and abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medicines by adolescents. This year the coalition decided to change the focus of the contest to vaping.
Vaping has become an increasingly serious problem among our youth. One in twenty middle school students have reported using e-cigarettes in the past month. According to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 4.9 percent of middle school students, or about 570,000 kids, are current e-cigarette users. The number of adolescents that use e-cigarettes continues to rise. Some of the reasons behind the current increase in use can be attributed to products that look like USB flash drives and can be easily concealed, appealing flavors, and the high amount of nicotine in e-cigarettes.
The main goal of the contest is to assist middle school students in learning and understanding the dangers of vaping. I had the opportunity to visit some health classes at South Plainfield Middle School in February. I gave a short presentation about the health risks of vaping and worked to help students understand that a lot of the marketing that is done by e-cigarette companies is aimed towards youth. Then, we had a discussion about vaping where they shared their thoughts and concerns.
Some students expressed that they have friends that had tried vaping or were currently vaping. They do believe that e-cigarette use is increasing among their peers and they would like to have the tools to be able to educate their friends about the dangers of vaping. I also worked with small groups at the Metuchen Public Library where we had a discussion about vaping while the students worked on creating their creative expression entries. The kids did an amazing job at creating their entries!
For the contest, middle school students in grades 6 through 8 were eligible to participate. Each student chose to create a drawing or a written essay or poem that should include the phrase, "Don't Get Vaped In." Judges will pick winners for each grade and there will be a recognition dinner to celebrate students' achievements. Because of Governor Murphy's order to close schools for the rest of the school year, schools were advised of an extension to the submission deadline, which is now May 22, 2020. Each participant will receive a certificate and the winners will be notified by mail.
After the award ceremony, the winning submissions become a valuable community resources that are posted on a portable display board which travels to local libraries, banks and community centers, spreading important prevention messages.