Breathe In Change: East Hampton Students Fight Vaping Epidemic In Schools

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Two East Hampton High School graduates cofounded Breathe in Change, a student initiative to combat the nicotine addictions they saw at their school.

After e-cigarette use amongst middle school and high school students more than doubled following the introduction of JUUL electronic cigarettes in 2015, Breathe in Change began a student group in 2019 to provide therapeutic alternatives such as support groups and student-led presentations to combat the crisis, after they noticed that most schools’ tactics were not helpful in combatting the issue. 

“Students who were caught with nicotine vapes were and still are in many schools suspended, even long term,” Southampton High School principal Brian Zahn said. “This disciplinary response only furthered students’ addiction by keeping them home, often unsupervised, where vaping continued, grades dropped and student dropout rates increased. Today, I and many of my colleagues have learned that intervention, prevention and therapeutic measures are much more effective in addressing student addiction and mental health issues than punitive actions.”

Samantha Prince, who cofounded Breathe in Change with Erin Kennedy, testified before Congress on the dangerous impacts of teen vaping. That testimony helped spark New York State Attorney General Letitia James’ recent efforts to combat the teen vaping epidemic that resulted in $16.4 million in Juul lawsuit settlement funding coming to Long Island schools to fund prevention efforts. With the settlement funding, James appointed Prince and Kennedy as the first ambassadors to teach young people about the dangers of vaping.

“I cannot thank you enough, Attorney General James, for helping our schools become better equipped to fight the attack of these even more dangerous vaping devices on our students,” Prince said. “I am confident that you and your office will continue to do everything in your power to hold their deceitful companies accountable and to protect the lungs and minds of my classmates and friends.”