SALT LAKE CITY – The Salt Lake County Health Department is teaching fifth grade students about the dangers of vaping and smoking in a new way – utilizing pig lungs as an interactive and visual warning.
“How many people think vaping is safe?” Salt Lake County Health Department health educator, Marcia Peterson, asked a group of fifth grade students at Hawthorne Elementary.
Peterson looked around the room, no one raised their hand.
“Good, you’re learned already that it is not safe!” Peterson continued.
It was a typical day inside the fifth-grade classroom at Hawthorne Elementary.
“Do you know the answer to 12?” 10-year-old Lilly Harmon asked the girl next to her as they worked through a packet. “Vaping! Easy!” she continued.
Today’s lesson: The dangers of vaping, nicotine and tobacco products.
“Did you know nicotine is harder to get off of than heroine or cocaine?” Peterson continued as she passed around a jar filled with a molasses-looking substance. The goo, representing the amount of tar left in a person’s lungs if they smoked half a pack of cigarettes a day for a year.
Peterson passed out papers, showed pictures and continued to ‘quiz’ the group of 10-year old's.
But, one item captured every eye in the room -- two sets of pig lungs, one black and one pink, held up by PVC pipe which led to a foot pump on the floor.
“This one looked just like this one when it was removed,” Peterson said as she pointed to the black lungs, which had been directly treated with chemicals found in common tobacco products, mimicking the damage caused by smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for a year.
“Those little air sacks are filling with nice clean air,” said Peterson as she started to push the pump, filling the ‘healthy’ lung with oxygen.
As the pink lungs inflated, they filled up like a balloon and then returned to original size.
She then moved her foot to the other pump, connected to the black-colored lungs, but when air was added, they barely inflated and appeared to have very little elasticity.
The lungs had been directly treated with chemicals found in common tobacco products, to mimic the effects of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for a year.
“Those little air sacs are shot,” she said. “They’re full of tar and other chemicals that harm it.”
“I knew smoking could harm your lungs, but I didn’t know it looked that bad,” Lilly said. “That’s super gross.”
The students were even given the option to touch them. Giving a soft squeeze between the index finger and thumb, the healthy lungs felt pliable, soft and stretchy. The unhealthy lungs were hard, dense and had a ‘stickier’ texture.
“Oh gosh! It feels like sausage!” one student said as they felt the healthy pair.
“Feel the difference? How dense and how firm that is?” Peterson said to the students as they swapped spots and touched the other pair
“Eww!” Lilly said. “It’s like a really hard rubber flap,” she said in reference to the black pair.
The lungs aren’t meant to be a scare tactic, just a very good visual warning to aide in state-wide youth prevention efforts.
“I think it’s a great age because they’re really impressionable at this age and can learn the dangers,” the student’s teacher, Deborah Schmock said. “When they go up to high school, where maybe it’s happening more, they’re like, ‘Oh no, that’s not a good idea.’”
Across the state, vaping has been a hot topic; the Health Department reports more than 70-thousand Utah teens have tried vaping.
Numbers from the American Heart Association show more Utah kids are addicted to nicotine now than ever before – a staggering 37,767 students, to be exact, roughly 12.4-percent of all Utah middle and high schoolers.
“It really does make an impression on them,” Schmock said. “They’re going to see that and go, ‘Oh my gosh, this really affects your body when you smoke.’”
“Do you think you’ll ever smoke?” Fox 13 reporter, Elle Thomas asked Lilly. “No, not after this,” Lilly shook her head.