Hackensack Meridian Health Announces Take Vape Away Campaign to Combat Youth Vaping

October 10, 2019

Network providing grants to schools and community groups to launch buy-back programs, investing in education and outreach to warn students of perils of e-cigarettes

Hackensack Meridian Health, New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive health network, is pleased to announce the Take Vape Away campaign, a sweeping $1 million strategy to address the vaping epidemic, which includes grants to school districts and community groups to launch buy-back programs, educational outreach and other strategies to combat vaping among middle school and high school students.

“As a father and health care executive for 35 years, I am alarmed at the vaping epidemic, especially among our children and believe we must take an aggressive, multi-targeted approach,’’ said Robert C. Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health. “We are calling on all health networks and youth community groups to join in our effort because the scope and scale of this problem will require all of us to engage.’’

More than 1,000 patients have been treated for lung injuries associated with vaping across the U.S. Twenty-three people have died, including a New Jersey woman and a Bronx 17-year-old, the youngest fatality in the U.S. More than one-third of the patients treated for vaping-related illness are 20 and younger. The number of adolescents vaping has grown exponentially and now 1 in 4 students report using e-cigarettes, according to the CDC.

The network is investing $1 million in a comprehensive strategy to address the epidemic including:

  • A $200,000 grant program that includes up to $7,000 for local school districts and community organizations to institute measures to combat vaping, which includes launching buy-back programs or developing new programs.
  • Training 50 nurses to reach students at 100 schools to alert them of the perils of e-cigarettes, an investment of $50,000
  • Working with the New Jersey Mental Health and Addiction Agencies to educate youth about the perils of vaping.
  • Launching a public health study conducted by the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University to identify the health impact from vaping and identifying best practices to combat the epidemic at a cost of $750,000 million.

“Hackensack Meridian Health’s efforts will help prevent youth from starting to vape and assist those already using e-cigarettes to overcome their nicotine addiction,” said Acting Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “These initiatives will build upon the state’s efforts to combat vaping and address the health effects that come along with e-cigarette use.”

Additionally, Hackensack Meridian is proud to announce that Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Jersey, has provided $100,000 in additional funding to help support the network’s grants for schools and youth organizations.

“Nothing is more important to Horizon than protecting New Jersey’s health and the current vaping epidemic is a public health crisis requiring all of us who play a role in health care to work together,” said Allen Karp, Executive Vice President for Health Care Management and Transformation at Horizon BCBSNJ. “The CDC has been clear that minors and young adults should not use e-cigarettes or vaping products period. The community-based outreach and buy-back program is aimed squarely at educating young New Jerseyans about the dangers of vaping, reversing their use trend, and preventing them from experiencing the very serious, potentially life threatening, health consequences of vaping.”

Network officials launched the campaign to combat many disturbing trends:

  • In 2018, the National Youth Tobacco Survey reported a 78 percent increase in high school students who reported using e-cigarettes in just a year.
  • Today, one-quarter of high school students said they have used e-cigarettes, the federal government reported.
  • Among middle school students there was nearly a 50 percent increase in the number who reported vaping in a year.
  • 2/3 of adolescents who vape believe they are only inhaling flavors – not nicotine or anything potentially dangerous, the federal government reports.
  • Students who vape are more likely to start smoking compared to non-users. 31 % of youth who use e-cigarettes started smoking while 8 % of non-users started smoking.

“Clearly we must marshal all of our resources to stop our young people from vaping,’’ said Dr. Eric Costanzo, a Hackensack Meridian Health pulmonologist and critical care expert said. “We are seeing patients with severe lung illness which we suspect is related to vaping and unfortunately this may only be the tip of the iceberg.’’

“Hackensack Meridian Health and the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine are deeply committed to curtailing the vaping epidemic before it becomes any more widespread than it is,’’ said Dr. Bonita Stanton, a pediatrician and founding dean of the medical school. “We are especially concerned about the large numbers of middle and high school children involved.’’

“We have a perfect storm here – our young people not really aware of the risk they are taking and aggressive advertising campaigns by the e-cigarette industry are widespread and are normalizing vaping,’’ said Don Parker, president of behavioral health services.

The campaign was announced on World Mental Health Day, a day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma.

Experts are still uncertain what is causing the serious lung injuries, but regulators and lawmakers are proposing banning some products. The FDA will develop guidelines to remove from the market all e-cigarette flavors except tobacco.

In New Jersey, Gov. Murphy’s task force recommended the Legislature ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, and to increase penalties for selling to minors, restricting on-line sales and other strategies to combat youth vaping.

The New Jersey Department of Health has reported that 32 lung illnesses associated with e-cigarettes are being investigated. Of those, 14 have been confirmed, including the death of a woman.

“While regulators and lawmakers learn more about the scope of this problem, it’s imperative that we take action now to protect our youth,’’ Garrett said. “I believe we all have a role to play and in taking strong action, we can change the narrative of this disturbing health crisis.

For more info: http://takevapeaway.com


Hackensack Meridian Health is a leading not-for-profit health care organization that is the largest, most comprehensive and truly integrated health care network in New Jersey, offering a complete range of medical services, innovative research and life-enhancing care.

Hackensack Meridian Health comprises 17 hospitals from Bergen to Ocean counties, which includes three academic medical centers – Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, JFK Medical Center in Edison; two children’s hospitals – Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital in Hackensack, K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital in Neptune; nine community hospitals – Bayshore Medical Center in Holmdel, Mountainside Medical Center in Montclair, Ocean Medical Center in Brick, Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, Pascack Valley Medical Center in Westwood, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Old Bridge, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy, Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, and Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin; a behavioral health hospital – Carrier Clinic in Belle Mead; and two rehabilitation hospitals – JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute in Edison and Shore Rehabilitation Institute in Brick.

Additionally, the network has more than 500 patient care locations throughout the state which include ambulatory care centers, surgery centers, home health services, long-term care and assisted living communities, ambulance services, lifesaving air medical transportation, fitness and wellness centers, rehabilitation centers, urgent care centers and physician practice locations. Hackensack Meridian Health has more than 35,000 team members, and 7,000 physicians and is a distinguished leader in health care philanthropy, committed to the health and well-being of the communities it serves.

The network’s notable distinctions include having four hospitals among the top in New Jersey by U.S. News and World Report. Other honors include consistently achieving Magnet® recognition for nursing excellence from the American Nurses Credentialing Center and being named to Becker’s Healthcare’s “150 Top Places to Work in Healthcare/2019” list.

The Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University opened in 2018, the first private medical school in New Jersey in more than 50 years, welcomed its second class of 96 students in 2019 to its On3 campus in Nutley and Clifton. Additionally, the network partnered with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to find more cures for cancer faster while ensuring that patients have access to the highest quality, most individualized cancer care when and where they need it.

Hackensack Meridian Health is a member of AllSpire Health Partners, an interstate consortium of leading health systems, to focus on the sharing of best practices in clinical care and achieving efficiencies.