In the face of widespread teen vaping locally and nationwide, two West Hartford students have produced videos to promote the idea that it’s unsafe and not cool.
“No one smokes cigarettes at my age, but I know kids in all the grades who vape,” said Eleanor Farquhar, an eighth-grader at Bristol Middle School.
Farquhar’s 41-second video was one of two award-winners in the town’s recent Escape The Vape public service announcement competition. “Vaping isn’t cool” was the theme of her video, which can be seen youtu.be/7KViyXqPkVg.
At Conard High School, 10th-grader Miles Moynihan produced the other award-winner, “What’s in Your Vape?” posted at youtu.be/lDOJ0Hzmc4s.
Like their counterparts around the country, West Hartford educators and youth advocates have been working to reduce vaping’s widespread popularity among middle school and high school students.
Although there are no reliable recent statistics locally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that vaping by youth remained prevalent in 2021. About 2 million middle and high school students reported they’d used e-cigarettes in 2021, the agency announced in March in its annual National Youth Tobacco Survey.
The state public health department’s most recent data indicates about 27% of Connecticut high school students have tried vaping at least once, compared to just 15% who’ve tried conventional cigarettes.
The agency said more than half of high school students who tried e-cigarettes used the devices for substances other than nicotine, such as marijuana, hash oil or THC. Connecticut’s public health advocates warn that mood disorders, addiction, memory and cognitive deficits, and loss of impulse control are among the long-term effects of vaping.
Kelly Waterhouse, a town social worker and liaison to the local Juvenile Review Board, said West Hartford youth are vaping at alarming rates and contributing to school disruptions.
West Hartford, which has sponsored student roundtables and community conferences about the risks of vaping, this winter held a contest to get students producing videos targeted toward other students.
The town’s social services department, the West Hartford Prevention Partnership and West Hartford Community Interactive collaborated on the contest.
Students who competed got to attend virtual video training with West Hartford Community Interactive’s Executive Director Jennifer Evans, Director/Editor Nild Sansone, West Hartford social worker Kelly Waterhouse and Yale researcher Tricia Dahl, who has worked on research projects about e-cigarettes and adolescent substance abuse.
Moynihan focused his video on the various toxins that can be found in a vape. In a statement, he said “Kids at my own school vape, and I wanted to learn more and send a message about how it affects young people.”
Farquhar’s video confronts perhaps the most common reason that young people cite when they start vaping: It looks cool.
“Among students who had ever used e-cigarettes, peer use and curiosity were the most cited reasons for first trying e-cigarettes in 2021,” the CDC reported this spring.
“Vaping isn’t cool — unless you think breathing in deadly chemicals is cool,” a narrator’s voice says on Farquhar’s video as images of weed killer and formaldehyde cross the screen. “Vaping isn’t cool unless you think coughing up blood, coronary artery disease or a collapsed lung are cool.”
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Farquhar, 13, said this week that at her school, the risks of vaping have been in the curriculum since at least sixth grade. She said vaping appears to become more common around eighth grade.
“I see it outside sports games mostly,” she said. “People who don’t vape are put in an awkward situation — the person who is vaping has the sense they’re better because they’re doing this thing we’re not supposed to do.
“It’s the Pandora’s Box — they hear ‘don’t open it’ and they want to open it. They think ‘I’m cool, I’m better than you,’ so if you’re not doing it you’re put in a weird situation,” she said. “It’s hard to speak up.”
Farquhar’s video points out that research has concluded vaping reduces a pleasure-producing chemical in the brain, so ultimately undercuts the effect that many users are seeking.
“Some kids at my age are having a mental health crisis, they’re turning to vaping as a coping mechanism — but it’s a wrong coping mechanism,” she said. “Vaping lowers dopamine.
The CDC emphasizes that vaping has been linked to depression, and reported this spring that about 65% of all high school students who use any tobacco products are “seriously thinking” about quitting.
“Among students who currently used e-cigarettes, the most cited reasons for use were feelings of anxiety, stress, or depression and the ‘high or buzz’ associated with nicotine,” the CDC reported in its annual survey.