By Judy Bass
CANTON - If students at Blue Hills Regional Technical School thought that smoking, vaping and JUULING were just harmless pastimes, they got quite a wake-up call on January 27 from guest speaker Dr. Lester Hartman, who made the potential health risks of such behavior very clear to them.
“I hope Dr. Hartman convinced at least one or more students not to start vaping,” said Blue Hills Superintendent Jill Rossetti. “In follow-up sessions in their programs, students and teachers were discussing things they learned about regarding the dangers of nicotine, vaping, and addiction. Education is key to understanding the health consequences associated with vaping better. We hope these conversations continue at home so our students make good choices moving forward.”
According to his biography, “Dr. Lester Hartman has been a pediatrician for 32 years and is currently the senior partner at Westwood-Mansfield Pediatric Associates. He is a Mass General Hospital researcher who has focused on youth and tobacco as well as advocacy work to raise the tobacco purchase age to 21 years old. He co-wrote a resolution on the age increase which is now endorsed by the 55,000 pediatricians of the American Academy of Pediatrics.”
You need look no further than his car to know that Dr. Hartman feels extremely strongly about this topic. His vehicle is adorned with large, neon-yellow signs that say, for example, “VAPE NOTHING!” and “Join JUUL, Become a Future Lab Rat,” a message accompanied by a picture of a menacing black rodent.
What he told the students that day can be encapsulated in a few words: “E-cigarettes are no safer than cigarettes. It is not even an alternative. Vaping and tobacco are no different.”
Dr. Hartman’s presentation featured dramatic video clips that underscored his point, such as one that showed executives from the major tobacco companies testifying on Capitol Hill and all firmly stating that in their opinion, nicotine is not addictive.
Smoking “is the most common cause of preventable death in America today,” Dr. Hartman told the audience. “Five hundred thousand people every year die of tobacco-related deaths.”
He noted that the manufacturers of smoking products stealthily target young people with their advertising pitches, eager to get them hooked while they are still at an impressionable age and the part of their brain that controls judgement – the prefrontal cortex - is still in its formative stages.
“You’re getting screwed,” Dr. Hartman admonished them, saying firmly, “You’re the lab rats. This is the time period when they want you. Statistically, one out of four of you is hooked.”
He added, “Nicotine is not harmless” because it can raise blood pressure, elevate your pulse, and possibly reduce your IQ. “Ninety-nine percent of what you use has nicotine in it.”
The list of health effects he mentioned that are directly traceable to smoking and e-cigarettes was sobering – damaged lungs, temporary night blindness, bladder cancer, heart attack, increased likelihood of delivering a premature baby, just to name a few harmful outcomes.
Dr. Hartman wanted the students to understand that they can get seriously addicted before they even realize it. As one young person said on a video Dr. Hartman played, “Now I don’t know the difference between breathing and JUULING.”