Hackensack Meridian Health announced on Thursday the Take Vape Away campaign — a $1 million strategy to address the vaping epidemic.
The strategy includes a $200,000 grant program that will include up to $7,000 for local school districts and community organizations to implement measures to combat vaping; $50,000 to train 50 nurses at 100 schools on the dangers of e-cigarettes; work with New Jersey Mental Health and Addiction Agencies to educate youth; and a public health study at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University to explore vaping’s health impacts and best practices to combat the epidemic.
According to HMH, more than 1,000 patients have been treated for lung injuries associated with vaping across the U.S. and 23 people have died, including a New Jersey woman and a Bronx 17-year-old, the youngest fatality in the U.S.
More than one-third of patients treated for vaping-related illness are 20-years-old and younger. According to the CDC, the number of adolescents vaping has grown exponentially and now 1 in 4 students report using e-cigarettes.
“As a father and health care executive for 35 years, I am alarmed at the vaping epidemic, especially among our children and believe we must take an aggressive, multi-targeted approach,’’ said Robert Garrett, chief executive officer of Hackensack Meridian Health.“We are calling on all health networks and youth community groups to join in our effort because the scope and scale of this problem will require all of us to engage.’’
HMH also announced Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Jersey provided $100,000 in additional funding to help support the network’s grants for schools and youth organizations.
“The CDC has been clear that minors and young adults should not use e-cigarettes or vaping products period,” said Horizon BCBSNJ Executive Vice President for Health Care Management and Transformation Allen Karp. “The community-based outreach and buy-back program is aimed squarely at educating young New Jerseyans about the dangers of vaping, reversing their use trend, and preventing them from experiencing the very serious, potentially life threatening, health consequences of vaping.”
Network officials launched the Take Vape Away campaign to combat a number of disturbing trends. In 2018, the National Youth Tobacco Survey reported a 78 percent increase in just one year among high school students who reported using e-cigarettes, and the federal government reported that one-quarter of high school students said they have used e-cigarettes.
“We have a perfect storm here – our young people not really aware of the risk they are taking and aggressive advertising campaigns by the e-cigarette industry are widespread and are normalizing vaping,’’ said Donald Parker, president of behavioral health services.
Earlier in October, Gov. Phil Murphy’s vaping task force recommended the Legislature ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, increase penalties for selling to minors, restrict online sales and other strategies to combat youth vaping.
“Hackensack Meridian Health’s efforts will help prevent youth from starting to vape and assist those already using e-cigarettes to overcome their nicotine addiction,” said acting Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “These initiatives will build upon the state’s efforts to combat vaping and address the health effects that come along with e-cigarette use.”
The New Jersey Department of Health has reported that 32 lung illnesses associated with e-cigarettes are being investigated. Of those, 14 have been confirmed, including the death of a woman.
“While regulators and lawmakers learn more about the scope of this problem, it’s imperative that we take action now to protect our youth,’’ Garrett said. “I believe we all have a role to play and in taking strong action, we can change the narrative of this disturbing health crisis.”