RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Thursday marked The Great American Smokeout, an annual day designated to help people stop smoking, but in response to a growing number of lung illnesses related to vaping doctors are urging Americans to stop using e-cigarette products as well.
According to the latest reports from the Centers of Disease Control, the number of Americans who smoke is at an all-time low at 14%, which equates to about 34 million people. Those are numbers doctors like Wes Shepherd with the VCU Massey Cancer Center are happy to hear.
“To put that into perspective, in 2005 that was about 20 percent,” said Shepherd.
Shepherd is an Interventional Pulmonologist specializes in lung cancer at VCU. He says that while the current number of fewer people smoking is encouraging, more must be done to get those individuals to kick the habit.
“What a lot of smokers tend to forget about are the many other diseases associated with smoking like heart disease, stroke, emphysema and about a dozen other types of cancer other than lung cancer,” said Shepherd. "I think people often underestimate the addictive powers of nicotine and smoking.
Shepherd says in many cases the damage to the lungs of those who have smoked for years is irreversible, but certain negative effects of smoking can be improved within a short period time if smokers quit.
“Many of the symptoms related to smoking and the other adverse effects on the lungs, such as worsening asthma, wheezing, signs of chronic inflammation, those symptoms may get better, however it’s also important to know that when you quit smoking the risks of the smoking-related diseases such as heart disease, stroke lung cancer, begin to go down significantly as early as the first year," said Shepherd.
Those are some of the symptoms that Jonathan Rutledge is trying to avoid. Rutledge smoked for over 27 years, starting at age 15.
“It’s just something that you feel like you have to do and you just kind of feel drawn to it,” said Rutledge.
Rutledge says he has since turned to using e-cigarette products to curb the habit. He has been tobacco-free for almost nine months.
“I don’t cough as much; my sinuses aren’t as bad,” said Rutledge.
But while e-cigarettes continue to become a popular alternative to smoking tobacco, Shepherd says the risks out weigh the benefits.
“As of this week we now have seen approximately 42 deaths and over 2,000 cases of vaping related lung injuries,” said Shepherd “Many of these patients have suffered from a condition called lipoid pneumonia, which is the accumulation of fat and fatty substances in the lung tissue.”
It’s why on the day of the Great American Smokeout doctors and researchers like Sheppard are refocusing their efforts to encourage people to stop smoking e-cigarettes in addition to tobacco products.
“There are many things we don’t know about e-cigarettes. The production and development of these new products have certainly outpaced our ability to research them,” said Shepherd.
To combat this, the VCU Massey Cancer Center is providing its patients who want to stop smoking with more smoking cessation clinics and are training more of its staff to run them.
“We also offer multi-disciplinary lung cancer screening clinic for those that are either former or current smokers,” said Shepherd.
Rutledge says that he understands the risks involved with using the Juul Pod product, but adds that he hopes to one day eventually ween himself off the nicotine delivery devices completely
“I don’t think it’s ever too late. You just have to make a decision and take action,” said Rutledge.
Shepherd is part of a group at VCU that just put in a grant for a research study into vaping-related lung injury.
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