Respiratory therapists educate students about dangers of vaping



True or false: E-cigarettes are safe for youth.

Brownstown Central Middle School students unanimously responded “false” after that statement made by respiratory therapists from Schneck Medical Center in Seymour.

“If they were safe, we wouldn’t be here talking to you today,” Jamie Parker said to the students.

For the second year in a row, respiratory therapists visited the school to educate students about the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping. Joining Parker in speaking to the school’s nearly 380 students in grades 6 through 8 over a span of two days were Jalen Brown and Megan McGregor.

Brown kicked off each presentation asking the group of students to raise their hands if they have an electronic cigarette or know someone who does. Nearly every hand went up.

“In most classes or most schools, 90% raise hands,” Parker said. “That’s why we’re here today is to talk to you guys about it because it’s becoming an epidemic in your age group.”

An electronic cigarette is a device that has the shape of a cigarette, cigar or pen and does not contain tobacco. It uses a battery and contains a solution of nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals, some of which may be harmful, according to

Juul and Blu are the most popular brands. Brown said both have a battery source that heats a coil inside, which heats the juice that turns into an aerosol that is inhaled and then exhaled.

Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is colorless, oily, water-soluble and highly toxic and is found in tobacco, McGregor said.

Brown said some e-cigarettes have higher levels of nicotine than others, and some may be advertised as nicotine-free.

“There’s little, fine print that you might not even worry about reading that they might have small, trace amounts of nicotine in it, so that way, they can get you slightly addicted and you keep buying the stuff because nicotine is addictive,” Brown said.

He said Juul openly admits one pod can contain as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, which typically contains 20 apiece.

“A lot of these kids nowadays are sometimes getting one, two, maybe even three Juul pods a day because they can just quickly reach in their pocket, take it out, take a hit and put it back in,” Brown said.

“It’s so quick. It’s like how many breaths can you do in a day? You can get a lot in, so you can go through one, two, three Juul pods a day, so how much nicotine are you really getting?” he said. “You’re not really thinking about it because you’re constantly doing that.”

Parker said it’s rare for older people who smoke to go through more than three packs of cigarettes a day.

“If you do the math on how many that would be, they would have a cigarette in their hand a majority of the day, so compare that alternatively to your Juul,” he said. “If you’re going through three of those pods a day, it’s like smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, and you might be doing that over a shorter amount of time. You’re actually getting a higher dose of nicotine versus smoking.”

Nicotine also harms brain development. McGregor said a person’s brain is fully developed at age 25, so the middle school students are still growing and their brain is still developing.

“When you’re using nicotine right now as a young kid, you have some of these side effects working harm on parts of your brain that control your attention, learning, mood and impulse control,” she said. “You have the potential to get this big, beautiful brain, but you’re harming it now where you can’t get all the way to your potential of your brain growth and development.”

Brown showed a picture of a vending machine full of human brains with the phrase “It’s not like you can go buy a new brain.”

“The point behind that is you have one brain, one heart, one set of lungs from Day 1 you were born,” he said. “You’ve got to take care of them. You don’t get a second chance with those. There are no do-overs. … You can’t go up, put a dollar in and get a new one. It just doesn’t work like that. You have to take care of it. The nicotine can be damaging to your brain if you get too much of it.”

Another image showed a person handcuffed to an e-cigarette to symbolize addiction. Parker said research shows a person using an e-cigarette at a young age is more likely to smoke cigarettes or get involved in illegal drugs in the future.

E-cigarettes also affect a person’s lungs. Brown said the aerosol is a small, condensed particle broken down from a liquid to a gas that enters the lungs. It then gets in the bloodstream and goes to the brain.

In addition to the nicotine, the e-cigarettes contain several chemicals, including some that are known to cause cancer.

Use of e-cigarettes can lead to what’s known as popcorn lung.

“When you inhale that same chemical, it’s toxic and causes breakdown in your lung and causes long-term effects within your lungs,” Parker said.

Nicotine poisoning also can occur from using e-cigarettes. The number of poisonings went from 271 in 2011 to nearly 4,000 in 2014, McGregor said.

Those around a person using an e-cigarette may be impacted, too, through secondhand or thirdhand smoke from the the vape cloud after exhaling.

At the end of the presentation, McGregor said she hopes students share what they learned with their parents and friends.

“Just be an advocate for yourself and your friends and your community,” she said.

“If you do vape or if you know someone that vapes, we can’t make you guys quit just from talking to you for 30 minutes,” Brown added. “But we hope to maybe make an impact on you guys to where if you are vaping, you quit or you could consider it at least or if you know someone, try to get them to quit. It’s all starting right now. You guys have to make that decision.”

Eighth-grader Levi Emmons said before the presentation, he didn’t realize how easy it is to get addicted from using e-cigarettes.

Now, if any of his friends say they are vaping, he would share what he learned from the respiratory therapists.

“I know it’s bad and try not to do it,” he said of what he would tell his friends.

Principal Doug McClure said e-cigarettes were added to the school corporation’s tobacco policy. If a student is caught with e-cigarette-related products at school, they would receive out-of-school suspension for two to five days and be referred to local authorities for citation, he said.

McClure and school counselor Alicia McCrary both thought the presentation was important for students to hear.

“They definitely can make an informed decision now,” McCrary said. “They should have all of the information to prove that this stuff is bad, and we really don’t even know how bad. They used to have doctors on TV saying it was OK to smoke because they didn’t know the ramifications of it, so we don’t really know what long-term vaping is going to look like.”

McClure said students now know the potential consequences of using e-cigarettes.

“If you can find just one other person to stand up with you and just go into a pact together that ‘I’m not going to do this,’ just an accountability partner, sometimes, that just adds courage to be able to make the right decision for you when you know someone else has got their back,” he said. “Hopefully, with everyone getting the same information, they’ll find pockets of support that that they’ll be able to say, ‘I’m not doing this.'”

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