WARREN, NJ- Contrary to the popular notion that “Vaping” might be the safer alternative to smoking tobacco, guest speaker Melissa Tasse warned Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) parents that in fact e-cigarettes often deliver multiple-times more concentrated dosages of the highly addictive drug, nicotine, than their tobacco alternatives.

Tasse spoke to a roomful of WHRHS parents at the 2018-2019 School Year’s first event in the wellness series Parent Nights,titled “Vaping: Clear the Air,” Tuesday night, Nov. 13, in the school’s South Auditorium.

Vaping: Clear the Air was organized by the Healthy Edge Committee and the WHRHS PTO (Parent Teacher Organization), according to WHRHS Health Education Teacher and Wellness Director Jill Gleeson. 

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“The entire PTO helped plan the event, especially Lorie Acciarito and Aparna Virmani, as well as Toni Knoll from ‘Community in Crisis,’” Gleeson said.

She added that more Parent and Wellness events are planned for the second half of the school year.

Knoll, executive Director for Strategy & Prevention Initiatives at “Community In Crisis,” Bernardsville, and others from her staff, were at her organization’s display table at Vaping: Clear the Air. They provided literature, examples of devices, packaging and sales pitches, and more. For more information about Community in Crisis, go to www.communityincrisis.org.

Also in the lobby was a refreshment table set up by the PTO as well as an informational table set up by the parent volunteers organizing this year’s, “Project Graduation.” Every year, Project Graduation provides a safe, substance-free environment for student celebration on the Graduation Night in June. Staffing that table were parents students and/or graduates of WHRHS, Camilla Morch and Rita Barone. Barone is also the vice president of the WHRHS Board of Education, and a former member of the Long Hill Township Board of Education.

E-Cigarettes Now In Many Forms

As the Community in Crisis display table showed, and Guest Speaker Tasse said, the generic concept of “e-cigarettes” and vaping has grown from the first forms, which resembled cigarettes. The current array of products often appearintentionally more attractive to young prospective customers, including teens. The e-cigarette manufacturers now offer an array of sweet flavorings and hand held devices and pods. These newer devises also hold larger amounts of nicotine-concentrated oils and liquids from which the vapor is created.

This industry is largely unregulated, Tasse said, and it is so relatively new. Consequently, there has not been sufficient timeto do critical research about the potential medical harm, on lungtissue for instance, from long-term vaping use or second-hand exposure. 

Tasse of New Providence, who holds a doctoral degree in pharmacology and is a mother of a 13-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son, said the high concentrations of nicotine in vapingmeans that there is a higher possibility that it could take a much shorter amount of time for a teen to become addicted to nicotine. Many teens might not yet have realized they have a tendency to have an addictive personality, and therefore are even that more vulnerable than others to becoming addicted.

Through her “Honey Bee Foundation,” Tasse said, she has dedicated herself: To educating parents about the Opiod Epidemic and the neurobiology of substance abuse disorder; how the adolescent brain develops and how the adolescent brain is vulnerable to developing a substance use disorder; and what parents can do to prevent and intervene early.

She said she chose the name “Honey Bee” for her foundation because her first name, “Melissa,” has origins in Greek, meaning Bee. Tasse said she feels her work and the foundation’s work is to “pollinate with knowledge” the public discussions about the dangers of addiction, specifically the opiod addiction.

Tasse said she is dedicated to disseminating information to parents and adults regarding the neurobiology of addiction/substance use disorder (SUD). She said she wants to educate and de-stigmatize substance use disorder (SUD) to helpprevent the next generation of young people from suffering from SUD.

All of the same cautions about exposing teens at a young age to smoking cigarettes, cigars and pipes, and using chewing tobacco apply to e-cigarettes, she said. Among the dangers for teens are: Their vulnerability to peer pressure and glossy advertising campaigns; and the fact that teens are still in process of learning the importance of exercising good judgment in decision-making. 

There is also that hidden implication of much of the hype over vaping that it is somehow the “safer” alternative to tobacco, and therefor OK. Nothing could be further from the truth, Tasse said.

Tasse concluded her talk by reminding parents that studies have shown consistently that the most influential voice teens hear and listen to are the informed and supportive messages from their parents, followed up by their parents modeling good judgment decisions, themselves. It might sometimes, or even often, seem that the teens don’t appear to be listening to parents. However,studies show that repeated parental messages and modeling, in the end, are still the most important influence on the development of sound decision-making and impulse-control skills by their children, too. 

“Keep working with whatever way works for you and your teen,” Tasse encouraged.

Ongoing Wellness Parent Nights

The Vaping: Clearing the Air Parent Night was a continuation of an array of Community Wellness Parent Nights held during the 2017-2018 School Year.

“The Chris Herren Story,” on Jan. 10 last school year, featuredformer high school, college and retired NBA basketball guard,Chris Herren of Fall River, Mass. He was the subject of ESPN's documentary "30 for 30" episode. It was titled, "Unguarded." Heshared the story of his struggle with addiction in an intentionally frank and honest manner that encouraged teens to be frank and honest with themselves about appropriate decision-making, and to be aware how addiction can happen when teens have the guard down, when they are unsuspecting, or when many assume they should be happy, but in fact, they are not.

Later in the school year, WHRHS Healthy Edge Committee, in conjunction with several community groups, hosted two of three “Community Wellness” events during the first two weeks of March. The first two were: “Let’s Talk about Drugs and Alcohol” on March 6; and a screening of the documentary, “If They had Known,” about the dangers of mixing alcohol and prescription medication, on March 13.

A third event, “Let’s Talk: Mental Health,” was held on Thursday, April 12, featured guest presenters from the Minding Your Mind Mental Health Organization. 

Healthy Edge Committee

The WHRHS Healthy Edge Committee is an online resource for the Watchung Hills community to access information, activities, and support related to “Wellness.” The Healthy Edge provides a comprehensive effort to the Watchung Hills community with the resources to enhance the social and emotional wellness of all students. This initiative strives to maximize student development in four key areas: Intellectual Wellness, Emotional Wellness, Social Wellness, and Physical Wellness.

For more information about Healthy Edge, go to the WHRHS Web site, “www.whrhs.org,” and click on the “Community” button just above the big horizontal photos or the site’s front page. “The Heathy Edge” button is one of four under the Community quiver. “Project Graduation” is another.

WHRHS has adopted as a strategic priority to enhance the living learning experience for the WHRHS community by offering a variety of Wellness events for students, parents and staff.

Every year, WHRHS offers students an opportunity in December to participate in “Challenge Day,” day-long experience in community-building, values-nurturing, and self-identity-affirming. The program is led by trained and skilled facilitators who provide similar Challenge Day events at schools all across the country. The program has been offered at WHRHS for decades.

Last year’s Healthy Edge wellness series concluded with a day-long Wellness Day, on June 8. Teachers were invited to “think outside the box” with fun, innovative, creative and relaxing activities that called for teachers and students to interact in a way other than the typical ‘teacher-student’ dynamic. Teachers wrote lesson plans, and had them approved by supervisors. But they were encouraged to do something ‘different,’ such as play board games, role play, just take the time to notice the day, and have fun while seeing each other in other roles. Among other things, teachers took advantage of the sunny and warm June weather outside that day. They held some of the classes outside on the various lawns and fields surrounding the school.