Student ‘Popcorn’ Vaping Design Wins CCHS Billboard Contest

student and her mom stand in front of winning billboard design
Colonie Central High School sophomore Michele Tran and her mom stand in front the student’s winning “vaping” billboard design on Rt. 155 near Central Avenue.

Congratulations to sophomore Michele Tran this year’s winner in the annual billboard design contest for Colonie Central High School Digital Arts students. Her winning billboard was unveiled today in front of local media, her mother and classmates on Route 155 (New Karner Road) just south of Central Avenue.

As in the past years, students in CCHS’ Digital Arts courses worked in conjunction with Lamar Advertising to create a public service announcement billboard which will be on display in the community for a least 60 days. This year students learned more about the dangers of vaping by having guest speakers, reading articles, watching videos and doing independent research. After much brainstorming and digital renderings on that theme, some 75 student billboards were created and submitted to Lamar for judging. 

Tran’s bright yellow design features a picture of a tub of popcorn on the left with a human lung over lapping it. On the right is a trail of vaping smoke with dark lettering over the top that reads: Don’t Have Popcorn Lung When You’re Young.”

Tran said it took her a few days to come up with the design idea. Her goal, she said, was to reach out to people her own age and get them to understand that vaping is a dangerous habit, just like cigarette smoking.

“I really don’t think they realize how dangerous it is,” Tran said. “I don’t think they understand the risks they’re taking.”

Vaping rates up among teens

Although e-cigarettes have been around for more than a decade, vaping rates have skyrocketed in recent years, especially among teens, according to the Child Mind Institute. E-cigarettes are now the most frequently used tobacco product among adolescents — some 2.1 million middle and high school students were e-cigarette users in 2017 — far surpassing traditional combustible cigarettes.

Because of these high nicotine levels, vaping is extremely addictive — and teens are already more susceptible to addiction than adults because their brains are still developing, which makes them more likely to habituate to using drugs and alcohol. Addiction can impact the ability to focus.

For these and other reasons, vaping was a natural theme for this year’s design contest, said CCHS Art teacher Justin Defazzio

“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,” DeFazzio explained. “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 should help get the message out as some 30,000 motorists, Lamar estimates, will pass by it each day. That equates to about 1 million cars a month. If you are driving on Rt. 155 toward the intersection with Central Avenue, the billboard is on the right just before the Walgreens store. There it will stand for at least two months, then moved to other Lamar billboard locations in the Capital District as space permits.

The annual CCHS billboard design contest is held each school year and unveiled in the spring. In addition to vaping, student designs have focused on many other public service issues over the years from drinking and driving, to heroin abuse to texting and driving. The contest is run by Defazzio, and other high school art teachers Christine Festin and Amanda Harris.

The 2019 winner, Tran, is a student in Harris’ Digital Photography class this school year. Other participating students take Graphic I and II and the Digital Practicum courses at CCHS.