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Riverhead CAP students push to eliminate teen vaping

A group of Riverhead students who have pledged to live substance-free are making strides against teen vaping — by involving local officials. 

Fourteen members of the Riverhead Youth Coalition, a sector of the Riverhead Community Awareness Program, which addresses growing problems with alcohol and drugs in the community, met with Suffolk County legislators Al Krupski and Bridget Fleming April 3 at Riverhead Middle School to discuss how the county can reduce underage access to vaping products, CAP officials said last week. 

A pending law in Suffolk County could increase penalties for retailers who sell electronic nicotine delivery systems to individuals under the age of 21. 

Last Wednesday, coalition members updated Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, state Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, a representative of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other community stakeholders on its accomplishments and preventive goals during CAP’s fifth annual Meet and Greet. 

Coalition members released information about CAP and local vaping trends at interactive stations. The event was led by CAP executive director Felicia Scocozza and community prevention specialist Kelly Miloski, who presented information regarding substance and alcohol abuse.

“It’s important for people to know what you put in your body,” said Riverhead High School sophomore Imani Thomas, 16. “I know a lot of people think, ‘Oh, it’s just a vape, it’s water vapor,’ but when they actually hear what we’re telling them, they’re usually surprised.”

Riverhead Youth Coalition member Viktoria Skobodzinski discusses the group’s techniques to promote a drug-free lifestyle. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

According to a survey conducted by Riverhead CAP in 2018, approximately one in five Riverhead eighth-graders and one in three Riverhead High School students reported vaping in the past 30 days. The number of eighth-graders who vaped in 2018 was more than double the number in 2016, CAP officials said.

About 15% of eighth-grade students, 27% of tenth-grade students and 43% of twelfth-grade students in the Riverhead district admitted to consuming alcohol in the past 30 days, according to 2018 CAP data. Those numbers are higher than the national averages, Ms. Miloski said. 

Another survey conducted by the youth coalition found 46% of Riverhead High School seniors who drink reported drinking at someone else’s home with their parents’ permission in the past year. 

Riverhead Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who previously served as town liaison to CAP, said she was surprised by the underage drinking statistics.

“It is a little disturbing that we’re higher than the norm on the average in underage drinking,” she said. “I was surprised by that because I know CAP has made great strides in our community.”

Riverhead Youth Coalition member Ethan Caskie guides Natalia Monsalve of Alternatives Counseling Services through an interactive fishing game with substance-abuse facts. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

Ms. Miloski first announced RYC members would collaborate with local legislators at a vaping information session at Riverhead Middle School last month. At the time, RYC members gave a presentation about flavored vape products and local store displays that promote vaping. 

Proposed county legislation that has since been tabled concerned limiting liquid nicotine flavors to tobacco, mint and menthol because fruit and candy flavorings may entice teenagers.

The Riverhead Youth Coalition has welcomed about 30 new members in the past year, Ms. Miloski said.

“Local problems require local solutions,” she said. “We’re from this community. We live, work and hang out in it. It’s up to us to make sure it’s a safe and drug-free community for our youth and for everyone else living in it.”

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