Student Wellness Club Raises Awareness of Substance Abuse

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Participants in the Why I Run event Participants in the Why I Run event
Why I Run poster Why I Run poster

A student-run wellness club wants to shed light on substance abuse.

Western Albemarle High School students came together at the school's outdoor track.

The students have been running since about 4 p.m. to call attention to teen substance abuse, with a focus on e-cigarettes.

A 2016 U.S. Surgeon General Report says e-smoking is dramatically rising.

"Our idea was that, you know, there's not much awareness and education," says Claire Aminuddin, a student at WAHS. "Teachers and principals and parents aren't really educated on what students are able to access. And, you know, a rising trend is vaping."

Students also sold T-shirts and luminaries to raise money for future events.

Albemarle County Public Schools Press Release:

(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – A student-led wellness club at Western Albemarle High School is hoping to raise awareness about silent risk factors that threaten the health and fitness of teenagers across the country.

The school’s Wellness Ambassadors Club is sponsoring, “Why I Run,” an event this Friday afternoon, November 3, from 4:15 to 6:30 on the school’s outdoor track.

Students are being invited to run to call attention to the dangers of substance abuse, including drugs, alcohol, and most recently, vaping or the growing use of e-cigarettes.

A 2016 report by the U.S. Surgeon General found that “although conventional cigarette smoking has declined markedly over the past several decades among youth and young adults,” there has been “a dramatic rise in electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use among youth and young adults. It is crucial that the progress made in reducing cigarette smoking among youth and young adults not be compromised by the initiation and use of e-cigarettes.”

In 2014, the use of e-cigarettes by young adults 18-24 years of age surpassed that of adults 25 years of age and older, making e-cigarettes the most commonly used tobacco product among youth, according to the report.

Rob McConnell, an internal medicine specialist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, says he’s concerned about reports that vaping or the use of e-cigarettes by teenagers grew by 900 percent between 2011 and 2015.

The World Health Organization says that vaping can become a gateway for teens and young adults to become smokers. A study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science suggests that vaping has an impact similar to cigarettes in suppressing immune system-related genes.

“Our generation is facing a whole host of pressures every day in their lives,” says Claire Aminuddin, a Western Albemarle sophomore and one of the founding members of the Wellness Ambassadors Club. “Whether it’s who can take the most advanced placement courses, earn the highest grades, get into the best universities, or get the best jobs, the temptation to turn to unhealthy practices to relieve stress is ever present,” she said.

The Wellness Ambassadors Club was established by Aminuddin together with Oliva Gallmeyer, Alice Ferrall, and Francesca Gibson. The students had a deeply personal catalyst in fighting back against substance abuse — the tragic death last year of the school’s much beloved music teacher, Eric Betthauser, who was killed by a drunk driver.

The club is working with the Charlottesville Albemarle Coalition for Healthy Youth to provide safe and drug-free events for students to attend after school.

Its mission is to promote healthy decision-making among peers and to encourage honest conversations at their school about substance abuse and its harmful effects on the lives of students.

This summer, Aminuddin, Gallmeyer, Ferrall and Gibson served as delegates to the Youth Alcohol and Drugs Prevention Project convention at Longwood University. The program was dedicated to creating action plans to confront substance abusive behavior, which led to the plans for this Friday’s event.

“It’s estimated that by the time high school students enter college, 50 percent of them will have experimented with drugs or alcohol. The increasing popularity of activities such as vaping spreads the false idea that it is a safe alternative to smoking—it is not,” say the four club leaders.

While participation in the run this Friday is free, students will be selling t-shirts and luminaries to raise money for future events.

Those wishing to participate in the two-kilometer run on Friday are asked to register at:

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