JACKSONVILLE — Maria Limberis spent part of her Wednesday warning fellow Jacksonville State University students to “escape the vape.”
Limberis and other students at the university’s respiratory therapy program set up a table inside JSU’s Theron Montgomery Building during lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday, armed with candy, souvenir foam lungs and information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on electronic cigarettes.
According to the CDC, there have been 1,500 vaping-related illnesses in the U.S., with 34 deaths attributed to the act.
“We want to educate the youth about vaping,” said Limberis, a respiratory therapy major at JSU. “There’s a lot of controversy about vaping and a lot of back and forth, so we’re just trying to educate them with information from the CDC.”
Ed Goodwin, the program director of the fledgling Department of Respiratory Therapy that graduated its first four-year group in May, said his students organized the table in honor of National Respiratory Health Week.
“Students come through here for lunch or whatever else, and we just share the information and trying to challenge some of them into stopping vaping,” Goodwin said.
A plastic tote sat on the table for persuaded quitters to deposit their electronic cigarettes. Limberis said one student had thrown away a vape pen so far.
“The evidence has not been studied enough to prove exactly what particular types are harmful, so the best thing the CDC recommends right now is just not to vape, period,” Goodwin said. “They’re doing studies on it to the point that it’s an epidemic level. They’re trying to determine what’s causing the deaths and share that information with the public.”
Brad Hollingsworth, owner of Vapor Outfitters in Oxford, said that despite the stigma surrounding vaping, he’s seen it help a lot of his customers who want to stop smoking.
“There is so much unknown, but I’ve seen it help so many people, and they feel better. These people are using it to quit, and they’re so happy about it,” Hollingsworth said. “It impacts people’s lives in a positive way.”
Hollingsworth said the chemicals in vapor offer what he believes are a cleaner alternative for people who rely on cigarettes for nicotine.
“I’m not a doctor, so I can’t say for sure whether it’s more healthy or not,” Hollingsworth said. “But I can say that I know what’s in it, and I can’t say that for cigarettes.”
According to Hollingsworth, the majority of customers at Vapor Outfitters are smokers looking for a way to quit.
“You can start at a certain nicotine level and drop down,” Hollingsworth said. “I hate that there is so much of a negative light on it. I was a smoker, and it helped me quit. I think it works for a lot of people who actually give it a fair chance.”
Goodwin said some vape flavors are designed to entice young people, who have not yet smoked, to try vaping.
“A lot of it was targeted at young children with the flavored candy types,” Goodwin said. “We’ve seen cases as early as 6 years old, and the vaping deaths have ranged from 13 to 35, so we’re talking about a young age group.”
Hollingsworth said that enticing flavors are not new or unique to vaping.
“They’re saying that the flavors are enticing kids, but you don’t hear that about Crown apple, or other flavored liquors,” Hollingsworth said. “There are grape-flavored cigars, but you don’t hear about that.”