“I don’t normally speak to schoolchildren . . .” and so began a 40-minute lecture on the dangers of vaping that was similar to watching a car crash in slow motion—it can’t be stopped but it’s impossible to look away. As the dangers of smoking and nicotine have come to light, the younger generation is turning towards e-cigarettes with a belief that they are not harmful, causing a real problem that is apparent among the students of Wheatley. After the extra precautions, Wheatley has taken to prevent this behavior from occurring in its bathrooms, Ms. Pamela Mizzi, a speaker from the Long Island Prevention Resource Center, was invited to speak to the students and hopefully change some minds. That was the grand plan, but its execution was seriously lacking.
Armed with a powerpoint complete with Mayo Clinic statistics and lists of chemicals that read like a nutrition label, our guest speaker came prepared for an audience of professional adults looking to gain insights into “electronic nicotine delivery systems”, not a crowd of high schoolers already familiar with these devices. What are the things every Wheatley teacher says to do when giving a presentation? Keep the words on the slides to a minimum. Don’t read off your slides. Engage your audience. As she pointed to a slide of endless statistics, Mizzi said, “Look here!”, so the audience craned their necks and strained their eyes towards the screen in an attempt to read a nondescript blob of words while she rattled off the same words that went in one ear and out the other without inciting any neural activity. As the crowd realized that there would be no end to the dreary business of being force-read facts, rebellious thoughts turned to whispers, side conversations emerged, and mutiny swelled. Strike One! Presenters must be refined comedians: get the audience to laugh with them, not at them.
If Mizzi’s graphs didn’t frighten the audience into an “electronic nicotine delivery system”-free lifestyle, her motivations certainly did not. “The big tobacco industry is using you,” she preached, “You are being used for your money!” According to Ms. Mizzi, after losing many of their customers to the fear of lung cancer and death, the tobacco industry is putting all their efforts into marketing e-cigarettes towards the younger crowd for, wait for it, money! Absolutely mindblowing. Her argument against teen vaping—to prevent big tobacco from winning the day—had no resonance with the audience, a generation of people who can spend hundreds of dollars on an item of clothing emblazoned with a red and white logo. It met a red brick wall of millennial indifference: eye rolls, scoffs, texting, and snores. Strike Two! Know the audience or prepare to get routed.
It is no wonder that after to listening to a mandatory lecture with little stimulation and absolutely no connection, wayward hands would emerge to clarify some details, details that were innocent enough: “these two slides contradict each other,” “you called this ‘x’ instead of ‘y,’” “I don’t understand your message” etc. Nevertheless, Ms. Mizzi sensed something sinister about the “little children” asking questions they should not be asking. Growing increasingly flustered and combative, she soon brushed off many interesting points made by the students with terse statements until completely shutting them down with this statement: “Does anyone have any legitimate questions?” Strike Three, You’re Out! Don’t let the schoolchildren smell your fear.
An overwhelming majority of the school was reeling from the aftermath of the lecture. No, no one was purging their stashes of ENDS and vowing to live a better, healthier, and happier life. Instead, END-users and non-END-users alike were tearing apart the presentation, repeating sentences in disbelief and laughing over the comical tragedy. One senior cringed, “I got secondhand embarrassment from that.”. A harsher junior said, “She didn’t know what she was doing at all.” When asked what she took away from the lecture, another student joked, “I learned that I can get the experience of a banana nut muffin without eating the calories.”
Mizzi’s message was lost by her limited grasp of rhetoric, but this message is a very important one, one Wheatley and its teachers and faculty are determined to spread and gain traction among students. Vaping is definitely not without its dangers and it is startling to see kids as young as 12 and 13 vape under the impression that there are no consequences to their choices. Students are already dealing with the high stress levels associated with high school. Those who hope to escape this, look for an easy way to relieve the pressure, only put off the problems and risk dangers such as inflamed mouth cells, gum disease, tooth loss, impaired wound healing, and lung irritation. Although the speaker did not convince any students to quit vaping, instead giving material for a few laughs, the message is still present and salient: take a step back, go over life choices, and envision the consequences one, five, or maybe ten years down the line.
Stay Cool and Don’t Juul!😎