‘We’re very scared’: UCHealth respiratory director gives school presentations about vaping

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - As vaping becomes more of a concern around the country, a respiratory director at UCHealth Memorial Hospital is offering to give free presentations at schools to educate teachers, parents and students about the dangers of e-cigarettes.

Kevin McQueen is the director of respiratory care at UCHealth. He said he’s researched vaping for more than 10 years.

“The interesting thing is that in the beginning, they thought it was a safe alternative to combustible cigarettes, but as the time has gone on, we’re seeing there are some significant concerns with vaping,” McQueen said.

Across the U.S., nearly 500 cases of severe lung illness have been linked to vaping, and six people have died.

“We don’t know what five, 10, 15 more years down the road, what the body’s going to do to exposure of these chemicals,” McQueen said. “What we’re seeing now is an acute illness. Something right now happening, but we don’t even know the long-term chronic illnesses that this long-term vaping is going to do. So it’s kind of scary.”

According to McQueen, Colorado leads the nation in the percentage of teens who vape.

“Our middle school and high school students are at about 27 percent compared to the national average of 13.2 percent,” he said. “I think that the youth all believe that it’s completely safe, and that’s not true.”

McQueen said he wants to make sure those teens, and their parents, really understand the dangers of vaping. He’s been offering free 30-45 minute school presentations to educate teachers, parents and students about the risks associated with vaping.

“We start from the very beginning of what vaping is. We talk about the devices. We show multiple different designs of devices so parents would better know what to look for,” McQueen said. “Then we talk about what the vaping device is doing. How it has a heating coil and that heats the liquid and makes the vape. We talk about what chemicals are in there. We talk about some of the research that’s happened over the last 10 years, and then some of the unknown risks.”

McQueen said one of the problems with teen vaping is that the devices are so discreet that teens are using them more than they were intended.

“They’re designed like USB ports. They’re designed like rescue inhalers for asthma,” McQueen said. “I just met with a parent today that said that their daughter said that they’re doing it literally in the classroom with the teachers because some of the devices are very low vape. They don’t make a big cloud, so they’ll take a puff of it, and they’ll lean down and blow it inside their shirt. So these kids are getting nicotine continuously — much higher than anyone in earlier generations with combustible cigarettes.”

He said that’s posing big health problems.

“The human lungs are not designed to be a muffler of chemicals,” McQueen said. “They’re bringing in so much nicotine and other chemicals into their lungs that their bodies are not designed to process, so we’re seeing significant changes in the cellular level, and we’re very scared.”

McQueen said he isn’t sure why it seems like more people have started getting sick from vaping recently. One reason could be because the problem is being identified better.

“It could be that hospitals and doctors weren’t asking the question. The question has always been, ‘Do you smoke?’ And people would say no if they vape,” McQueen said. “So now we’re starting to ask, ‘Do you smoke and do you use any other nicotine devices, vaping?’ because once it gets rolling and people start asking that question, they can kind of link the illnesses to something.”

McQueen said anyone who wants him to come give a presentation at their school should coordinate with their principal. McQueen can be reached at kevin.mcqueen@uchealth.org.

“We really want to get this out to parents, teachers and even the students so that they can make educated decisions about what they’re doing,” he said. “This is a scary topic, and parents need to know what they’re dealing with. Kids need to understand this is not safe. There are significant risks.”