“Life is like a journey, like is like a ladder, and it has a lot of steps to it. We’re all going to start in the same place. In between being born and dying, we have a lot of living to do.”
So said motivational speaker Robb Holladay last week when he visited with Mid-Pen students for an educational assembly, Clear the Fog. Robb travels the country to raise awareness about the consequences of vaping and using tobacco. As Dragons learned at the assembly, the truth about vaping is in the medical images that reveal its impact on the human body.
“We all have to make choices, and our choices should be based on being informed,” he said. With a background in medical imaging, Robb has seen first hand how smoking and vaping damage the lungs. He engaged students with real-life personal stories interspersed with facts. Woven through it all was his message that students didn’t have to believe him, but they needed to understand that medical images he would present did not lie about the risk of vaping.
“I’m going to show you what vaping does to your body––and who wants you to be addicted,” he said.
Students learned that e-cigarettes were designed as a safer, smokeless alternative to smoking, and that all e-cigarettes have a heating element that turns liquid into an aerosol. Once inhaled into the body, the aerosol, which includes nicotine, turns into microscopic particles and leaves the body as a vapor. The particles have cancer-causing metals.
“It’s a fairy tale that vaping is a safe alternative to smoking,” he said. “Images tell the truth...I can be wrong, youtube can be wrong, but [medical] images tell the truth,” Rob said as he showed students MRIs of healthy lungs compared to lungs scarred and damaged from vaping.
The federal government has said that e-cigarette use, including the use of the increasingly-popular Juul, among teens is an epidemic. Studies have shown that while adult use is dropping, the number of teens using e-cigarettes continues to grow. At the same time, 47 people have died, and more than 3,000 hospitalized from vaping. While the specifics of how vaping impacts the lungs, its high risk is clear.
Earlier this week, the state of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against Juul for targeting youth with ads that appeared on the Cartoon Network and other sites focused on teens. The company is partially owned by Altria Group, which was formerly known as Phillip Morris Company; Altria is one of the largest producers of tobacco.
Juuls are most popular with teens because of the small size of the product, which can be easily hidden or disguised, and the ‘healthy” flavors that the company markets. What most teens don’t realize is that every single Juul contains nicotine, with one Juul pod equal to 20 cigarettes.
Mid-Pen students listened attentively to Robb as he debunked a popular teenage illusion that marijuana and “zero-percent” vaping is healthier than smoking.
“Smoke does not belong in our lungs, no matter where it comes from,” he said. “Marijuana has four times the amount of tar that a cigarette does. It’s not better for you at all. In many ways, it’s actually worse. Vaping is unregulated. It doesn’t matter if it’s zero or anything else. Anytime you vape, your airways become inflamed.
“Why do teens vape? For the head rush––it only lasts for a few weeks. Then as you go, the feeling disappears, and addiction is just around the corner. The brain is getting addicted to nicotine. Teens chase the buzz.”
In addition to images of lungs, students were shown CT scans of the brain before and after taking Juul hits. Students could see for themselves that vaping slowed brain activity. Robb made it clear that the reason e-cigarette companies were targeting teens is that getting them hooked at an early age is a money maker.
“The brain doesn’t finish developing until your 21 to 25...that’s why we have laws that say you can’t buy vaping products until you're 21,” said Robb. “Most addiction happens before you’re 21. Big tobacco knows they need you, and the only way they can get you is before your brain is 21.”
But before Dragons even think about trying an e-cigarette, smoking, or marijuana, Robb advised students to follow the Four Ts: “Take Time To Think.”
For students or students with friends who want to quit vaping, Robb recommended they sign up for a free program called This is Quitting or text DITCHJUUL to 88709, provided by Truthinitiative.org. The service sends text messages to teens to help them through the process. Parents of teens or young adults who vape can text QUIT to 202.899.7550 for support as well.