Respiratory therapy program aims to educate students

By Stephanie Garibay

For most college students the health of their lungs isn’t a main priority. Taking the right steps to prevent things like lung cancer might not be something the average person thinks about on a daily basis.

According to the American Lung Association an estimated 33% of college students have used tobacco products, the leading cause to lung cancer, including cigarettes, cigars, hookah and many other products.

Although East Los Angeles College is a smoke-free campus, students can be seen hiding behind buildings smoking cigarettes.

“I actually didn’t know ELAC’s campus is smoke-free,” said student Mariah Gardena

The Respiratory Therapy program at ELAC held an experiment called “The 400 Cigarettes Experiment” so students could see the harm that  cigarettes could do to the lungs.

The experiment also showed the process of extracting tar from tobacco.

The cigarettes were smoked and inhaled using a vacuum machine, which then released many types of harmful substances.

“After we put all the 400 cigarettes to be inhaled through the vacuum, this black substance came out.  We took this black material and all the chemicals inside of it and we melted it down and we cooked it and it made tar,” said Kyle Amuzquita, an ELAC student in the respiratory therapy program.

The cigarettes were placed in a straw-like holder, which went through a jar and was being inhaled by a small vacuum. The black material would fill up the jar with each cigarette. The jar contained water and the smoke would cross the water at high speeds. Eventually, the water went from transparent to brown to black.

On the side of the experiment was a plate containing the tar they had cooked up that looked like black hardened dirt.

“This is the part that goes to your lungs, the tar, this is what ends up in your lungs when you smoke,”      said Amuzquita.

The highly toxic tar residue contains at least 19 cancer-causing substances called nitrosamines. The tar residue is also what causes teeth to fall out and leads to gum disease.

Also on display were two sets of lungs: one healthy and one severely damaged by the use of tobacco.

“Everything you see on the damaged lung is irreversible. There’s nothing you can do to get your lungs back to normal,” said Amuzquita.

Students were able to put on gloves and feel the difference between both lungs.

“The healthy lung felt squishy and the damaged lung felt sort of hard,” said Mariah Gardena.

In the experiment, the respiratory program used pig lungs because of their close resemblance to human lungs. The damaged pig lungs had been manipulated to resemble an unhealthy lung since pigs do not smoke.  The lung was dyed black and the texture was changed to resemble hardened muscle.

Being able to see and feel real lungs helped make the harmful effects of smoking more tangible to students. Rather than just being told that smoking is bad for you, students were able to really see and conceptualize the harmful effects cigarettes have on the body.

“As respiratory therapists, we deal with patients who have lung cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, asthma and many other respiratory diseases,” said Amuzquita.

COPD and asthma are just some of the other respiratory/lung problems caused by cigarette smoking and other environmental factors.

Our lungs have broom-like hairs to keep bacteria out called cilia. Cigarette smoking can slow down the action of the cilia for hours and also reduce the number of cilia.

Although smoking is a big factor in respiratory and lung problems, there are other factors that contribute to breathing problems.

“Obesity restricts lungs, so exercising and not smoking are the two best things you can do to protect your lungs,” said Govi Frousto, another student in the respiratory therapy program.

Respiratory diseases related to obesity include sleep apnea, a disease in which a person pauses in breathing or has infrequent breathing while sleeping. Other diseases include exertional dyspnea, obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, asthma and many other diseases.

“People think smoking cigarettes is the only type of smoke that will damage your lungs, but that’s not true. Smoking weed damages your lungs just as much,” said ELAC student and nursing major, Mayra Alimena.

Lung cancer is the leading killer cancer in both men and women. The ALA states that lung cancer causes more deaths than colon, breast and pancreatic cancer combined.

The ALA also states an estimated 159,260 Americans are expected to die from lung cancer in 2014.

“Our lungs are large and in charge of breathing. It’s about time we start taking care of them,” said Alimena.

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