Battling E-cigarettes and Empowering Teens, Communities 4 Action Soars

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A pomegranate flavored e-cigarette disguised as a colorful pen purchased from a local gas station. Credit: Leslie Yager

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Matt Pignataro with the e-cigarette he purchased at a local gas station while wearing his Greenwich High School baseball shirt. He was not asked for an ID. Credit Courtney Oarr.

Part Eight in a Series on Risky Teen Behavior

Though e-cigarettes are often used to quit smoking, they also contain nicotine, which takes only eight seconds to reach the brain.

“E-cigarettes have been glamorized. Young people think there’s nothing in them that is harmful… but they’re electronic nicotine delivery systems,” said Ingrid Gillespie, the Executive Director of Communities 4 Action, formerly known as The Lower Fairfield County Regional Action Council.

Communities 4 Action (C4A), an initiative of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services, is immersed in statewide lobbying efforts. Last year, C4A held a legislative breakfast for representatives at the local, state, and national levels. At one hearing, a senator identified C4A as the primary motivation behind the passing of several e-cigarette prevention laws.

Preventative legislative measures are escalating in importance, as e-cigarette marketing is increasingly targeting teens. The bubble gum e-cigarette is a case in point.

“Tobacco and cigarette companies need future customers. The adolescent brain is much more susceptible to addiction than the fully developed brain,” said Gillespie, adding that 90% of recovering adult addicts first used controlled substances as teenagers.

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Ingrid Gillespie (Executive Director of Communities 4 Action), Stephanie Paulmeno (Chairman of Communities 4 Action), and Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei with a proclamation marking National Recovery Month. Credit: Leslie Yager

Capacity and Collaboration Building

Communities 4 Action (C4A), which aids prevention initiatives addressing a broad spectrum of risky behaviors, provides what Chairman Stephanie Paulmeno describes as “capacity and collaboration building.”

“We build the strength of people providing frontline services, and we pull people from multiple agencies together to develop projects,” said Paulmeno, who doubles as the CEO of Global Health System Consultants, a public health consulting firm.

Recent examples of C4A-bolstered initiatives include the passing of the Narcan Good Samaritan Law (which has saved 38 lives and counting), medication drop-boxes in local police stations, Stamford’s prevention-geared Taking Charge Curriculum, the Greenwich Father’s Forum, and various teen-driven prevention efforts.

In particular, C4A’s Regional Youth Liaison Committee is booming. The number of teens interested in promoting healthy living has mushroomed from “two or three kids at our first regional capacity-building efforts, to a number of groups in different communities now. There’s an increased momentum among youth who really want to promote healthy decision-making,” Gillespie said.

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Ingrid Gillespie, Executive Director of Communities 4 Action, and Stephanie Paulmeno, Chairman, both for the last 10 years. Contributed photo

Empowering Teens

C4A’s 10th annual youth networking newsletter showcased Greenwich High School’s Safe Driving Day, Darien’s Middlesex Middle School Kick Butts Day, the Greenwich First Selectman’s Youth Commission’s revival of Safe Rides, the student-run New Canaan CARES Coalition, and Stamford’s Westhill Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council.

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A poster that was part of Darien Middlesex Middle School’s Kick Butts Day. Contributed photo

“Through C4A’s annual trainings and networking meetings, students have had opportunities to learn and grow as young adults… These are the next young leaders working to keep their peers and communities healthy, safe, and strong,” writes Amy Badini, C4A’s Youth Liaison.

Gillespie hopes the absence of substance abuse will someday become convention.

Although many teens engage in risky behaviors, others choose not to, “and I think their voices are not being heard as much as they should be. We really want youth to be extremely active participants at the table,” said Gillespie.

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Stephanie Paulmeno and First Selectman Peter Tesei. Contributed photo

Education is Paramount

“The earlier you start drinking, the more likely you are to end up with a drinking problem,” said Paulmeno, adding that misusing prescription medications, a rising issue, can be fatal.

Gillespie stressed the importance of disseminating information not only on counseling and recovery resources for teens, but also on the pitfalls of using high-risk substances.

“If somebody perceives something has a higher risk, the odds of them using that drug or substance go down, but if they have misinformation, their perception of risk is off,” said Gillespie.

At present, C4A is actively expanding education programs for teens as well as parents. For the latter, C4A is focusing on the significance of early mentorships and healthy role models.

“Every dollar of prevention saves eight to ten dollars in treatment. It’s wise for government at every level to put money into prevention so we save money in the long run,” said Paulmeno.

See also:

Part One in a Series on Risky Teen Behavior (Courage To Speak’s Drug Prevention Night Moves Audience To Tears)

Part Two in a Series on Risky Teen Behavior (When a Lost Wallet Leads to Felony Arrest: Interview with Greenwich Police Sgt. Zuccerella)

Part Three in a Series on Risky Teen Behavior (Juvenile Review Board: A Chance for Underage Greenwich Offenders to Avoid a Criminal Record)

Part Four in a Series on Risky Teen Behavior (Drunk Driving Endangers One in Five Teens: Interview with GHS’s Peter Negrea)

Part Five in a Series on Risky Teen Behavior (Kids in Crisis: If Drinking is a Rite of Passage, Conversation Should Be Too)

Part Six in a Series on Risky Teen Behavior (Runaway Teens At Large: Interview with Greenwich Commissioner Alan Barry)

Part Seven in a Series on Risky Teen Behavior (Porn, Sexting, Violence: Greenwich Det. Christy Girard Talks Cybercrime)

Part Eight in a Series on Risky Teen Behavior (Battling E-cigarettes and Empowering Teens, Communities 4 Action Soars)


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