Wareham Middle School e-cigarette lessons attracts CNN

By Matthew Bernat | Mar 29, 2018
Photo by: Matthew Bernat Wareham Middle School health teacher Harriette Sullivan prepares for a lesson before a CNN camera starts filming in her classroom.

Slick packaging and sweet, fruity flavors are being used to sell e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking, and teens are picking up the habit. But a Wareham Middle School health teacher is arming students with information about the smokeless, electronic devices, which prompted CNN to film inside her classroom for an upcoming story.

“We’re thrilled some light is being shone on the dangers of e-cigarettes and the importance of health classes, especially for kids in this age group - 13, 14 and 15 year olds,” said Harriette Sullivan, who has taught in Wareham Public Schools for 10 years.

On Thursday morning, a videographer for CNN visited her classroom. He shot footage of Sullivan teaching about techniques to resist peer pressure, the dangers of e-cigarette use and misleading advertising tactics.

“Students are getting a strong handle on how they’re being manipulated into doing something that’s not healthy for them,” said Sullivan.

Those lessons had a direct impact on student Kaylee Allen. Based on what she learned from Sullivan, the seventh grader said she became aware of the addiction threat e-cigarettes pose.  She turned down an offer to try one of the devices, which deliver a hit of nicotine with flavors such as gummy bear, mango and fruit medley.

“It was a lesson learned to stay away from certain things that aren’t good for you,” said Kaylee. “We learned all about the false advertising and that there is actually nicotine in there.”

Kaylee mentioned her brush with peer pressure to Sullivan, who in turn told officials from CATCH My Breath. The Texas-based nonprofit provides lessons on e-cigarettes – free of charge – to middle and high school health teachers, including ones Sullivan uses.

Marcella Bianco, CATCH My Breath’s program manager, said when CNN came calling for a feature on her organization, Sullivan’s success story immediately came to mind.

Founded in the 1980s, CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) focuses on sun safety, physical activity, nutrition and other issues. Bianco said the group’s e-cigarette campaign started in 2016 as a pilot program in five states. Since then, it’s expanded to 30 states, reaching at least 50,000 students in more than 200 middle and high schools.

Bianco said CATCH My Breath started after officials saw an alarming rise in e-cigarette use among teens.

According to a report from the U.S. Surgeon General, the number of middle school students who have ever tried e-cigarettes jumped from below 2 percent in 2013 to 5 percent in 2015 nationwide. For high schoolers, that figure went from 4 percent in 2013 to 16 percent in 2015.

In Massachusetts, 23 percent of high school students use e-cigarettes, according to the most recent data from the state’s Department of Public Health.

Bianco said the CATCH My Breath lesson plans, all available online, are updated in response to new e-cigarette trends, such as when Juuls – compact, rechargeable devices that quickly caught on with students – hit the market recently.

Sullivan said she was grateful to have the lessons provided by CATCH My Breath. Also, she praised school administrators for making a commitment to keep health classes at the middle school in light of budget cuts.

“A lot of kids are experimenting at this age, and it’s important they have the tools to say ‘no,’” said Sullivan. “Because that’s not going to be offered in other classes.”

Principal Dr. Peter Steedman praised Sullivan for her dedication and concern for student health. He said he was unsure when CNN will air the story or how the footage will be used. Wareham Week has reached out to CNN for comment.

Health teacher Harriette Sullivan reviews lessons on Thursday. (Photo by: Matthew Bernat)
Seventh grader Kaylee Allen said lessons learned at Wareham Middle School taught her about the dangers of e-cigarettes. (Photo by: Matthew Bernat)
Harriette Sullivan teaches as a videographer working on behalf of CNN films. (Photo by: Matthew Bernat)
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