A drug-free promise, and the fight against Big Tobacco

Promise Garden planting one of the highlights of Red Ribbon Week at Mt. Hope High School

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 10/31/19

With tulip bulbs as a symbol of their promise to live drug-free, a group of Mt. Hope High School students gathered at the school’s Chestnut Street campus last Saturday, Oct. 26, to plant a …

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A drug-free promise, and the fight against Big Tobacco

Promise Garden planting one of the highlights of Red Ribbon Week at Mt. Hope High School

Posted

With tulip bulbs as a symbol of their promise to live drug-free, a group of Mt. Hope High School students gathered at the school’s Chestnut Street campus last Saturday, Oct. 26, to plant a garden in honor of that promise.

“The bulbs should bloom around prom, as a timely reminder,” said Sean Palumbo, a senior who serves as president of the school’s STAAND (Students Taking Action Against Negative Decisions) chapter.

The planting of the Mt. Hope Promise Garden was held in honor of Red Ribbon Week, a national drug awareness program. 

Red Ribbon Week began in 1988 in honor of a DEA agent who was brutally murdered in 1985 by drug traffickers he was investigating in Mexico. After his death, people started wearing red ribbons to honor his sacrifice. Today, millions of people celebrate Red Ribbon Week by wearing red ribbons, participating in community anti-drug events, and pledging to live drug-free lives. 

Additional Red Ribbon events held at Mt Hope included an appearance by Matt Bellace, a comedian who shares a positive message about getting high naturally, through laughter. “He was really funny,” said Kerri Sousa, a parent advisor to STAAND. “It just feels so good to laugh like that.”

Taco Tuesday also got a prevention spin: “say no to drugs, yes to tacos.”

Chris Herren, the Portsmouth resident and motivational speaker who brings his powerful message of surviving his own substance addiction, visited Mt. Hope a couple of weeks earlier to speak with ninth- and tenth-graders.

According to Christine Bandoni, Mt. Hope’s student assistance counselor, Mr. Herren’s visit brought a number of students into her office. “You know students were impacted because they were coming to us, which is ultimately what you want,” she said.

Vaping initiatives seeing results

According to Ms. Bandoni and Mt. Hope Principal Deborah DiBiase, the district’s aggressive new policies on vaping cessation and prevention are already seeing some results. “The anti-vaping message that resonates with students — more than dying — is the fact that tobacco companies are making money on them,” said Ms. Bandoni.

“When kids come in looking for help quitting, I tell them I’m angry,” said Principal DiBiase. “Not at them, at the Juul company.”

“Which is Marlboro, by the way,” added Ms. Bandoni. Altria, maker of Marlboro, invested $12.8 billion in Juul in late 2018. That’s a 35 percent stake in a product that comprises 75 percent of the e-cigarette market.

“I’m telling students I’m mad at that company. They were losing money because the students were too smart to start smoking cigarettes, so they had to find another way with a new product,” said Dr. DiBiase. “Look what’s happening now. These students would have never gotten addicted to nicotine (if not for vaping).”

“When we have conversations with kids about substance abuse, in the prevention community, we actually call it dosing,” said Ms. Bandoni. “It’s lots of little messages, delivered regularly.”

“Yes,” agreed Principal DiBiase. “It can’t be one and done.”

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.