Michelle Tran stands in front of her billboard on Route 155 on Friday, May 17. Jim Franco/Spotlight News
COLONIE — Vehicles travelling on Route 155 in Colonie will see a poignant message about the dangers of vaping thanks to an annual collaboration between Colonie High School and Lamar Advertising.
This year, the billboard features a large bowl of popcorn with a set of lungs superimposed and one of the more popular vaping brands, a Juul, as the esophagus. On the right is a trail of vaping smoke with lettering that reads: “Don’t Have Popcorn Lung When You’re Young.”
“I think it affects a person’s health and I think it is dangerous to everyone,” said Colonie sophomore Michelle Tran, who won the design contest for this year’s billboard. “I want people to know the effects of vaping and how dangerous it is. I think it is important because more people are vaping, mostly teenagers, and we don’t know the risk of it. I think people don’t know how it affects their health and they think it is just water vapor they are breathing.”
Popcorn lung, or bronchiolitis obliterans is a condition that damages the lungs’ smallest airways and makes a person cough and feel short of breath. It’s sometimes caused by breathing in a chemical used to flavor microwave popcorn but other chemicals can also cause the disease. Opponents of vaping claim the practice can contribute to popcorn lung.
As in the past years, students in CCHS’ digital arts courses worked with Lamar to create a public service announcement billboard which will be on display in the community for a least 60 days. It will start on Route 155 and then get moved around the Capital District, said Michael Flanagan, general manager at Lamar. Some 75 design ideas were submitted this year.
“Lamar thinks it is important to give back to the community and the children of the classes here have done a tremendous job, year in and year out, of getting an important issue out there and this year vaping is the one,” Flanigan said. “There were a lot of great entries this year and it was tough to pick one but we got a good one.”
Some 30,000 cars travel on Route 155 per day.
Vaping rates among teens has skyrocketed in recent years and is not the most frequently used nicotine product among adolescents, bypassing the traditional cigarette. According to the Child Mind Institute, some 2.1 million middle and high school students were using e-cigarettes in 2017.
Different regulations are in place and others are still pending. For example, in Albany County vape shops can only allow those older than 21 to enter and any place that allows people younger than that through the doors cannot sell flavored nicotine based products.
The state and Albany County are still exploring the possibility of banning flavored nicotine based products across the board.
There are different methods, though, with the pod based systems, like the Juul, being the most popular among teens. They are small and easily hidden and can have extremely high levels of nicotine.
Tran said it is not uncommon to see students vaping in and around school.
“Throughout the school year our students have learned about the myths and dangers inherent in this new form of taking in nicotine through a series of informational short films and literature,” said Colonie High art teacher Justin DeFazzio. “Additionally, this year we partnered with our iCARE team to have peer to peer meetings to discuss this topic. Hopefully, through all this, we have persuaded them against this choice and the billboard will do likewise for others in the community.”
The billboard is located on the right hand side if you are approaching Central Avenue from Washington Avenue.
In years past billboard themes have included social issues like drinking and driving, heroin use and texting and driving.
The program is run by Defazzio and high school art teachers Christine Festin and Amanda Harris.