Forum on vaping, e-cigarettes to focus on facts

Parents, teens invited to ask questions during city-sponsored community event
By Nicholas Johnson | May 17, 2017
Courtesy of: Shawneri Guzman Shawneri Guzman holds a healthy human brain while giving a presention on the health affects of smoking. She plans to bring a brain to a community forum May 25 in Mukilteo.

For years, Shawneri Guzman has been using donated human organs to share real-life stories about the health risks of smoking cigarettes.

“Many of the organs we have came from cigarette smokers who wanted to share their stories,” said Guzman, a Trauma Data Analyst & Injury Prevention Specialist at Providence Health & Services who has 20 years of experience as a health care professional.

“We don’t have vape stories yet because they haven’t been out long enough. We want to prevent those stories from having to be told.”

Guzman plans to show off a healthy brain Thursday, May 25, during a community forum highlighting the health and safety risks to teens of vaping and smoking e-cigarettes.

“How many opportunities do people get to see a real human brain?” she said. “Vaping affects all parts of your body, but I am really focusing on the brain.”

The forum, sponsored by the city of Mukilteo, will run from 6-7:30 p.m. at City Hall and will educate parents, teens and community members about the risks associated with vaping and e-cigarettes, as well as the risk of broader drug abuse by these products.

“It’s not intended to be a debate about whether vaping is safer than cigarettes,” Guzman said. “The truth is: safer doesn’t equal safe.”

Vape devices and e-cigarettes are relatively new, meaning the jury’s still out on whether they are safer than traditional cigarettes, Guzman said.

“We thought smoking was safe when people first started doing that, and now we know that isn’t true,” she said. “Who wants to be a test subject? These kids are inadvertently being test subjects, not knowing what the long term affects are going to be. It’s a gamble.”

Several years ago, Guzman began getting questions from high school students about vape devices while giving presentations on the health risks of smoking cigarettes. When vape devices first hit the market, they were regarded as cool and safer than traditional cigarettes, she said, prompting some students to bring them to school.

“When I first started getting questions about it, it seemed like with vaping there were no rules, so kids were bringing these devices to school,” she said.

“Smoking has such a stigma to it, so that has really decreased. But vaping is a culture, and that attracts teens. It’s seen as socially acceptable and cool and fun, and teens often look past the dangers because of that.”

Data collected from 2011 to 2015 have shown that e-cigarette use has increased among high school students 900 percent in the United States. Studies indicate that the rise in the use of vaping products and e-cigarettes among teens are driven by a lack of accurate information about their health risks.

“Often times there is a misperception among teens that vaping and e-cigarettes are safe. Not only is this not true, the use of these devices can perpetuate the use of more dangerous substances,” Mukilteo Police Chief Cheol Kang said.

Vape devices can be used to smoke other substances, such as marijuana THC oil, without parents knowing the difference, Guzman said.

“A parent might catch a child vaping, but not know there are THC oils in there,” she said. “It’s easy to conceal your usage.”

Many teens understand the addictive risks of nicotine, but might still be attracted to the many flavored liquids, she said.

“What if I use the vape juice that doesn’t contain the nicotine?” she said, noting that Formaldehyde and antifreeze are both found in the juice. “Is it as bad? You are taking away the addictive property, but you are still putting a heated chemical into your body that can cause cancer.”

Guzman said the brain is not fully developed until about age 25, meaning teens are more susceptible to addiction. Her goal is to convince teens to at least wait until their brains are fully developed before trying vape devices or e-cigarettes.

“We don’t always have to experience something to know it to be fact,” she said. “You don’t have to be in a terrible car accident to know that seat belts save lives, for example.”

The state’s Healthy Youth Survey, conducted every two years, first asked students about their use of vape devices and e-cigarettes in 2014. Reported usage among most student groups in Mukilteo schools fell significantly in the 2016 survey, the results of which were released earlier this year.

“It seems now that kids are getting the message that it might not be as safe as they think,” Guzman said.

The forum is part of a series of events the city will be organizing in 2017 to highlight health and safety issues for youth and families in Mukilteo. The initiative is the result of Mayor Jennifer Gregerson’s Action Agenda priority to reduce violence and promote healthy behaviors for youth.

“We are committed to protecting public health in our community, and making sure that everyone has accurate information about the risks associated with e-cigarettes and vaping,” Gregerson said.

Guzman said she plans on presenting the facts in a practical way so parents and teens can come to their own conclusions together.

There can be a lot of head butting between teens and parents because they are operating on different sets of facts,” she said. “This will be an opportunity for parents and teens to learn about these things together so they can have the same facts.”

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