BY Citlalli Godinez
Sacred Heart graduate student Gabrielle Diaz has recently received the Michael J. Perlin award from the Connecticut Public Health Association for her efforts in a Sacred Heart University campaign to bring awareness to vaping. The campaign began in June 2018. Diaz graduated from SHU in May 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in Health Science, concentrating in Health Care Administration.
Diaz worked with Professor Anna Greer, the Director of Master of Public Health; Professor Kerry Morgan, a professor in the Health Science program; Jessica Samoulis, a Psychology professor and Victoria Adams, the tobacco program coordinator at Southern Connecticut State University.
“Throughout the 2018-19 academic year, it was my responsibility, as a graduate assistant, to bring awareness on vaping to the SHU community. Our group, known as the Vape Awareness Peer Educators, held various events throughout the year that helped us address our main goals: to increase awareness of risks associated with vaping, prevent vape use among never users, and reduce/eliminate use among current and occasional users,” said Diaz.
Aside from various events on campus to bring awareness to vaping, Diaz, Greer and Morgan worked together to form the “Know the risks. Know the resources. kNOw VAPE” campaign.
“In the past month, we have presented at two different conferences, the Connecticut Public Health Association Conference and the American Public Health Association Conference. A key focus for us is offering resources to students, faculty and staff who are interested in quitting or reducing their tobacco use, including vape,” said Morgan.
Sacred Heart University provides resources for students who are interested in quitting vaping. If you are interested, you can contact Greer or Morgan for more information and resources.
“We have quit kits available, we can offer one-on-one quit coaching, and we can connect people to external resources,” said Morgan.
The services provided by the university are free of charge and confidential.
The tobacco 21 law is a bill that raises the legal age of purchasing tobacco products to 21. This law was put into effect in Connecticut in October.
Greer and Diaz were able to come together with state representative Cristin McCarthy Vahey to discuss the tobacco 21 law. Vahey is a Democrat representing Fairfield County.
“Working with state representative Cristin McCarthy Vahey has been a wonderful experience. I have met with her on multiple occasions and she is such a great and important advocate for tobacco control. It has been a pleasure working with her and I hope to continue working with her in the future,” said Diaz.
“Gabrielle was amazing. We could not have accomplished so much with our campaign had she not been a part of our team. I asked Gabrielle to oversee our nine-person peer education team. Essentially, I gave her a ‘big picture’ task I wanted to accomplish and she made it happen. I love her initiative,” said Morgan.
Diaz is not only advocating for colleges but is also doing so for high school students. She continues to put forward work that helps raise the awareness of vaping.
“I’m currently interning at the Stratford Health Department and bringing awareness to middle and high school students throughout the towns of Stratford, Fairfield and Trumbull,” said Diaz.
According to newsinhealth.nih.gov, about 37% of 12th graders reported vaping in 2018, compared with 28% in 2017.
“Looking back to the beginning of last year, there were not a lot of students vaping. Now, it seems as if everywhere I go, students even at a young age are vaping,” said junior Jenna Wilson.
“I would love for students to make our resources more known to their friends. The ‘word of mouth’ promotion is a key ingredient. One of my favorite things about SHU is the strong sense of community. So, I encourage students to be liaisons in their community to connect others to information and resources,” said Morgan.
“Safer does not equal safe. There are a lot of harms associated with vaping. It is highly addictive. If you haven’t tried it, don’t try it,” said Greer.