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Dangers of Vaping - A Video Interview with Virginia Guy, Executive Director, Drug Education Council

View the Video - Bryan Comer sat down with Virginia Guy, Executive Director of the Drug Education Council to talk about the misconceptions regarding the use of e-cigarettes. 

Read the transcript of the interview, which outlines good information for parents to better understand the misconceptions about vaping in the teen years:

Bryan Comer (BC): I've got Virginia Guy the Executive Director of the Drug Education Council here with us to talk about the Drug Education Council and the dangers of vaping. Virginia, I appreciate you coming down here today.

Tell us just a little bit about who you are and what y'all do with the Drug Education Council.

Virginia Guy (VG): At the Drug Education Council, we provide prevention, intervention and recovery support services throughout Southwest, Alabama. So if somebody needs a school-based program, a community-based program, or a program in a church, we're available to help. If a family is dealing with addiction within their family, or maybe just some drug use they're not sure how to handle, call us. We'll be able to consult with the family and see what the best options are for their family and for their loved ones.

BC: Prevention is such an important factor in keeping kids off drugs and alcohol. Is that correct?

VG: Yes, and our main focus is really to prevent addiction; and we know that 90% of addiction starts in the teen years. Anything a teen is using, whether it's nicotine, alcohol, any of the opiate drugs, any medication, their brain is so much more vulnerable to addiction. So we want parents, grandparents, teachers, educators to understand this and for kids to understand it - that the longer we can delay the onset of first use, the better able we are to have this child develop into an adult who can have a normal relationship with alcohol and drugs. Which means that they can have a drink at wedding without being problematic, or they can take a medication after surgery and not have a problem with it.

BC: I was reading about this earlier - what is it about a young person or a teenager’s brain that makes he or she more susceptible to addiction?

VG: Well the limbic system of the brain, which is that primal part of the brain that is our our fight-or-flight, our emotions - that is developed very early. The frontal lobe of the brain which is the executive function is the last thing to be developed. And so what happens when that brain is not completely developed yet, the limbic system kind of what I call hijacks the brain and takes over. That's why a lot of times when you're dealing with people with addiction, the family will describe them as being immature, not making good decisions, that kind of thing. It's because they've never given a chance for their frontal lobe to develop fully.

We want to delay the start of using drugs until after your frontal lobe is completely developed which is all of your executive functioning - the ability to see consequences, to set goals and maintain those goals, to look at long term consequences all of those kinds of things which is really part of being a good adult. Those things are developed last. And once those are developed then drugs aren't nearly as harmful on the brain.

BC: If we can delay the onset of usage of anything, then we can prevent our kids from becoming addicted.

VG: We won't prevent all of it. You know, we do know just like with diabetes or heart disease or any of the other chronic diseases. Addiction is a chronic disease. It does run in families. So we can't prevent all of it, but we can prevent a lot of it.

BC: Sure and every person that we help matters.

I want to turn our attention to vaping and I know everybody knows what vaping is and people have seen vaping, but I didn't understand the differences in the different modes of vaping. Can you talk just kind of briefly about that?

VG: Right when these devices were first developed, they were developed to be smoking

cessation devices and they looked similar to this (points to a large device that was used in early stages of vaping) then they later looked like that.

They come in all kinds of devices, but you put the liquid in there that has the nicotine in it. The goal was to reduce the amount of nicotine to the point where you would stop using the nicotine completely.

Unfortunately that hasn't happened - most people instead of using it as a smoking cessation device, they use it as a smoking replacement device. They've been convinced that it's safer than combustible tobacco. We’re not sure of that right now - we really need to research these. These liquids are a cocktail of chemicals that have propylene glycol and all kind chemicals in them.

We're concerned with the long-term use of that and so we're following the research, we may be years on knowing. Every pulmonologist and cardiologist I know is not in favor of anybody putting anything into their lungs other than air. But the thing that I'm most concerned about is when this device was developed (Juul) which is a lot cooler than that the older, bigger devices. This is the one that kids are using.

BC: This is the Juul right?

VG: This is the Juul, and this little pod has more nicotine in it than an entire pack of cigarettes. For kids using this device, they're taking a very vulnerable brain and they're putting a tremendous amount of nicotine into it. And that's what we're most concerned about.

BC: How long does one of these pods typically last?

VG: Well, we have kids tell us that they smoked a couple of pods a day, which

would be like a couple of packs of cigarettes a day. And you know, that was not what we saw with combustible cigarettes - kids would have a pack of cigarettes and it would last a little while. But these they can use these almost anywhere. They don't smell like tobacco. You also don't have the burning sensation. You know, it's very dangerous for young people.

BC: And in addition to the developing brain, I understand that there's a number of case studies out there where people have had permanent damage to their pulmonary system even after a shortened period of use, you may see the same effects as someone who's smoked a pack a day or two packs a day for multiple years. That this damage happens earlier. Is that kind of what you're seeing, right?

VG: There's a local pulmonologist who tells me he's treated a person who was vaping that it looked like a chemical injury to a brain like if you have a chemical spill in a plant.

He was seeing that damage to the brain to the lung, and one of the things that I did not know until recently is the lung is the only organ in our body that does not repair itself.

So lung damage is permanent, you know our heart can repair itself. You can lose most of your liver and your liver will start to repair itself. Even the brain can develop new pathways to repair itself, but the lungs do not repair themselves. So if you quit using tobacco products you'll start to breathe a little bit easier. But the damage that you've done to your lungs is still there and that's very concerning.

You know, there's been situations where young people have done, you know serious damage to their lungs from vaping and using these products.

When these got out there, they're mostly unregulated. So we don't know what chemicals are in them. There's a lot of evidence that some of the black-market products are the problem where they've got some of the vitamin E oils in them. But you can put you know marijuana any drug can be put into a vape product. So that's also a problem particularly for young people. That's scary.

BC: In addition to the prevention services available, the council was able to get a law passed prohibiting the sale of this to minors is that right?

VG: Right. We were really fortunate our legislative delegation under the leadership of

representative Barbara Drummond and Shane Stringer sent a bill to the Alabama legislature which was passed that aligned these vaping products with tobacco products. Prior to March of last year there was no law that prevented retail establishments from selling these products to any age child. So a 12-year-old, a 13-year-old could go in and buy. Now they're aligned with tobacco products which in the state of Alabama is 19, but federal mandate is now moving toward 21.

If we can delay people from using these until twenty-one we would prevent a lot of health damage and a lot of addiction.

BC: As I understand it, that's when the frontal lobe is mostly developed.

VG: In the early twenties and it slowly develops by twenty-five. But every year you can delay, even if you can delay first use from seventeen to twenty, you can improve your chances.

BC: Well, fantastic. Well, thank you so much for coming down here.

If you have any other questions about vaping, the dangers of vaping see the Drug Education Council’s website for many good resources.

Link: Drug Education Council

Link: The Facts on e-cigarette use among youth and young adults

Thank you very much, and appreciate you coming.

VG: Thank you.

If you or someone you know has been harmed due to vaping, contact the attorneys of Tobias, McCormick & Comer for a free consultation.

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