by LISA MACNEIL
HERNANDO SUN REPORTER
In a packed auditorium at Hernando High School, Senior Malia Williams gave a very personal account of her sixteen year old sister’s frightening experience while experimenting with others using an eCigarette, or ‘vape.’
Shortly after puffing on the device, her sister’s heart rate soared to a dangerously high rate. Doctors would later report that the fluid within contained arsenic. “That’s rat poison!” Williams told the audience.
Williams, who organized the assembly, invited the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office and Tobacco Free Florida to help send this important message. Williams did not dwell on the action that led to her sister’s hospitalization, but rather concentrated on the subject of addiction and how it has affected several members within her family.
According to Jennifer Bliska with the Hernando Community Coalition (HCC), 16.9% of Hernando county teens are using ‘vapes,’ higher than the state average of 15.7%.
Addiction takes many forms, and all are difficult to recover from once established. Nicotine, the active ingredient in most eCigarettes has long been proven to be more addictive than heroin. “Don’t start,” Williams said plainly. Flanked by a panel of dignitaries including School Superintendent John Stratton, John-Michael Gonzales of Tobacco Free Florida and members of the Hernando County Coalition, Williams’ simple message is that you can’t get addicted if you don’t take the first puff.
In a brief video, actual teens gave their accounts of their own nicotine addictions, as well as dealing with addictions of those close to them.
Fellow student Robert Kordon also addressed his classmates, emphasizing the best way to avoid addiction is to stay away from nicotine. Kordon is a member of Students Working Against Tobacco, which is organized by the Hernando County Coalition.
After the assembly ended, and Williams and Kordon spoke to a small group of attendees, their leadership was evident while discussing with their peers what teenagers can do to be positive role models and guide their cohorts into healthier activities.
Malia Williams is already setting a great example. She will graduate early and plans to join the Navy. She’s also been crowned Miss Blueberry 2019.