Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs High School sophomore Jessie Dunlop donned a less-than-fashionable "40-pound purse" - a portable oxygen tank - Thursday, getting a feel for what life would be like down the road with smoking-induced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
"It smells funky," Dunlop said, as she ripped the plastic tubing out of her nose. "I'm never starting smoking."
Respiratory therapist Mary Agosta and Cari Pugh, a local sales representative for PS Homecare, made anti-smoking presentations to high school students and fifth-graders at Strawberry Park Elementary School on Thursday, in conjunction with the American Cancer Society's 33rd Great American Smokeout.
Nationwide, 1,095 people die each day from smoking-related illnesses, teacher Luke DeWolfe said. Three times that many teenagers start smoking to take their places, he said.
During Thursday's presentation, Agosta led students in breathing exercises designed to simulate what smoking-induced respiratory distress would feel like - taking them from the normal 12 to 16 breaths a minute up to 20. After only a minute of what Agosta called "the upper end of normal breathing," nearly half the students reported feeling a bit lightheaded.
"It only takes a couple of years of fooling around with cigarettes in high school to do the damage," Agosta said.
Elderly people with respiratory problems, many of them current or former smokers, can be constantly short of breath like that for years, even decades, until they ultimately pass away, Agosta said.
"What you experience at age 60 is this inability to do anything," Agosta said. "You just don't have the wind power."
People with COPD - the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States - often report to the hospital with levels at 40 breaths a minute, still unable to get enough oxygen, Agosta said.
Respiratory problems later in life do not just afflict lifelong, heavy smokers - Agosta treats patients who smoked briefly when they were younger but quit decades ago.
"Everybody who smokes damages their lungs," Agosta said.
"We get patients all the time who say 'If only I'd known what would my life would be like, I never would have smoked,'" Pugh said.
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