By Maddy Vitale
A teenager suffers second-degree burns on his face. His throat is scorched. He is in terrible pain.
The injuries were caused by an electronic cigarette that exploded in his face.
An 8-year-old boy is rushed to the hospital because he got his hands on an electronic cigarette or E-cigarette. He puffed on it to the sounds of adults giggling in the background. The child suffers from toxicity from a high level of nicotine in his system.
Those were just two news accounts detailed and shown on a large screen by Doug Collier, a former DEA agent (Drug Enforcement Administration) and the main speaker for a symposium on marijuana and vaping called “What’s Smokin’ in New Jersey?”
The event, hosted by the Sea Isle City Municipal Alliance, Mayor Leonard Desiderio, the Sea Isle Police Department and the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, was held at the former school, located at 4501 Park Road in Sea Isle on Friday.
Desiderio, who is also a Cape May County freeholder, looked around the room prior to the start of the program and smiled.
“I’m glad that everyone took the time to be here today. There are many seniors here who have grandchildren,” Desiderio said in an interview. “Today, I want them to learn a lot about vaping and marijuana, and the concerns over both.”
Collier, who teaches criminal justice at Monmouth University, warned the crowd that the children, especially teens, are in trouble.
Vaping is a newer phenomenon and research shows it can be just as dangerous as regular cigarettes, and it is gaining popularity among young people.
“Our kids are in the danger zone,” Collier said into the microphone as he walked around the room and engaged the audience.
Education and prevention are the keys to a healthier, more aware, society, Collier said.
“You become the ambassadors, and that is what we need. The fact that you are here, I applaud you,” Collier stressed. “We have to make sure our greatest assets are protected – our children.”
Collier explained how vaping, especially for young people, is especially dangerous because their brains are still developing.
“Intervention and prevention are critical for our kids,” Collier said. “Addiction is a disease.”
Collier also warned of what he called a “game-changer,” when young people add marijuana or synthetic drugs to E-cigarettes.
Several officials attended the program, including Sea Isle City Police Chief Tom McQuillen, Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland, Cape May County Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton, Freeholder Jeffrey Pierson and Freeholder E. Marie Hayes. Sea Isle Councilman Bill Kehner and former Sea Isle Mayor Michael McHale were in the audience.
Sea Isle’s AARP Chapter 710 President Frank Roach, who is a Municipal Alliance Committee member, called on all the seniors he knows to attend the program.
He said more than 65 AARP members from Sea Isle gathered in the room to hear what Collier and other officials had to say.
Roach said the audience members learned valuable information about the ill-effects of vaping and some of the issues coming about with changes in laws for marijuana use.
“Members learned the negative effects this has on their children, grandchildren and especially the entire New Jersey Community,” Roach said. “We all came away realizing how this is impacting the children in our schools, and their future development.”
Eileen Boltz, a grandmother who lives in Sea Isle, called the symposium very informative.
“I learned so much about the dangers of teenagers vaping. I have grandchildren and I am now more aware about vaping,” Boltz said.
She added that when it came to the potential legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in New Jersey, she has real concerns.
“They talk about how it will be made legal and I am really concerned. There are real dangers to this,” Boltz noted.
Callatta Goolsby and Larry Jones, fellow AARP members of the Woodbine chapter, attended the program because they were curious to learn more about the topics.
“I wasn’t sure what vaping was,” admitted Goolsby.
Jones said he was not opposed to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, so long as it is not abused.
Others in the audience, including the freeholders, said they had some real concerns about the status of vaping and marijuana in society.
“I have 13 grandchildren,” Pierson said. “Getting this information out to the public is so important.”
Thornton cautioned of the dangers of potentially legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
“Every state that has legalized marijuana, there have been significant problems,” he noted.
Thornton said that states that legalized marijuana have seen the number of drivers under the influence increase.
Both Thornton and Pierson agreed that it would add another layer to enforcement since there is no breath test for marijuana. Law enforcement officers would need to be trained in drug recognition testing. That would mean new hires and state oversight, they said.
“Do we jeopardize public safety for funds?” Thornton asked, referring to additional tax money that would be made through marijuana dispensaries if it was legalized in New Jersey.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” Pierson said.
The goal of the program was all about community outreach, officials emphasized.
Sutherland said having Collier educate the audience helps Cape May County residents gain an understanding about the dangers of vaping.
Police Chief McQuillen echoed Sutherland’s sentiments, saying it is all about education.
“We take things in Sea Isle very seriously,” he said. “Regardless of how you feel about vaping or the use of marijuana, we are all here today to take back to family and friends what we learned.”