RT Lovell Palmer Williams webL/R: Kit Lovell, Leslie Williams, Gentry PalmerA group of undergraduates at the University of Alabama at Birmingham spent “Kick Butts Day” doing just that with a group of local middle school students.

Kit Lovell, Gentry Palmer and Leslie Williams, students in the UAB School of Health Professions Respiratory Therapy program, visited Pizitz Middle School in Vestavia Hills, Ala., to teach more than 350 seventh grade students about lung health and tobacco risks. They also debunked myths about e-cigarettes.

“This is going to become a hot topic in the near future and a lot of people I know have resorted to the e-cigarettes despite knowing nothing about them,” said Lovell, who is expected to graduate UAB later this month. “As a former smoker, I know how hard of a habit it is to kick and prevention should be the main focus because so many people can't quit or have smoked too long to make any significant improvement in their condition.”

RT ecig 02 webIn late 2013, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study reported that e-cigarette experimentation and recent use doubled among middle school and high school students with an estimated 1.78 million students having ever used the product. It also revealed an estimated 160,000 students who reported using e-cigarettes had never used conventional cigarettes. 

“E-cigarette companies are not just competing for current tobacco users - they are marketing to non-smokers and I hate to say this, but children are responding,” said Jonathan Waugh, Ph.D., RRT, professor in the respiratory therapy program in the Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences. “To address this growing problem, our students included a demonstration of a simple model of how an e-cigarette creates the characteristic vapor, without nicotine in this case, in order to demystify the product. If the kids encounter e-cigarettes in the future then they will be more likely to respond with, ‘already saw that, no big deal, not interested.’”

“My advice to any kid thinking about experimenting with e-cigs is to think about how big tobacco markets these products to exploit them because they believe kids are an easy target,” said Lovell. “I know these kids are smart enough to think for themselves and they should definitely show the big tobacco industry that they are nobody's fool.”

RT ecig 01 webThe learning activities were in conjunction with the annual “Kick Butts Day” held every March 19. The event, sponsored by the Tobacco Free Kids organization, helps children learn about how tobacco affects the body, demonstrates how lung disease makes breathing feel different and teaches them how to help family and friends who use tobacco.

By helping school children learn how to protect their health and encourage healthy changes in their family and friends, this is just one more way UAB School of Health Professions students are making a difference in our community.