Alton smoker tells kids not to start

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ALTON — Thirty years of smoking a pack and a half of cigarettes a day. Breathing problems. Three trips to the emergency room. Throat cancer. Almost lost his vocal cords. Radiotherapy. A temporary tracheostomy leading to an exclusively soft food diet. A cerebral vascular accident. The Depression. Count on oxygen and a cane daily.

For Alton’s Ralph Federle, it all boils down to one message to young people who want to start smoking or vaping: don’t.

“I wasn’t really scared because I know where I’m going after I die,” Federle said of his cancer diagnosis. “But just the mere thought of my family members, my daughter, my granddaughter. I have too many reasons to live. And so I would fight.


Federle and Karen Boyd, one of the navigator nurses caring for him at the OSF Moeller Cancer Center in Alton, are among those learning about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) latest annual report on youth vaping.

“E-cigarette use among youth remains an ongoing concern, as the survey found that more than 2 million US college and high school students reported currently (in the past 30 days) using e-cigarettes in 2021, and e-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco products among college students,” reads an executive summary of the report. Students listed the top reasons for using the devices: because a friend did it, to relieve anxiety or depression, or to get a buzz in. And 16.6% of students surveyed thought intermittent e-cigarette use caused little or no harm.

At the same time, the FDA continues to crack down on the marketing of vaping products. Some anti-vapers say bright colors, delicious flavors and cartoons are a way for vaping companies to appeal to young people.

“Instead of inhaling tobacco smoke, users inhale a vapor, and that comes from liquid e-liquid,” Boyd explains of the differences between smoking and vaping. “It goes straight into their lungs, which then immediately circulates through the body, into their bloodstream and into their brain.”

Boyd and his colleagues at the cancer center have held presentations at middle and high schools about the dangers of vaping. She talked about those presentations surrounded by some of the ghoulish visual aids they use with students: a rotting mouth model, vaping devices leaking tar, photos of vaping batteries exploding on a smoker and even the carcinogenic chemical formaldehyde. , which Boyd says is found in vapes.

Ironically, Federle says that under the advice of his doctor, he ingested some of these unhealthy things to quit smoking.

“[The doctor] said he would take care of the nicotine. Come find out you can get [vapes] without nicotine,” says Federle. “I did that for a while. It helped me quit smoking cigarettes. And at some point, I was no longer interested in vaping. I don’t know if it was the cost or [something else].”

Boyd points out that vaping to help quit smoking is “very rare” and shouldn’t be done without a doctor’s approval. She says the big problem is the unknown amount of nicotine in the devices.

Either way, Boyd agrees with Federle: young and old shouldn’t start smoking or vaping.

“Nicotine delivery is a big concern because one of those little Juul pods is the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes,” says Boyd, brandishing a popular e-cigarette brand. “You can go through one of these Juul pods very, very quickly in this vapor form. So you could basically smoke up to two or three packs of cigarettes a day if you use two or three of these Juul pods.

Federle says there were times when he felt death could come at any time. In those moments, he felt so desperate that he cried. But he says he hasn’t smoked or vaped in five years and is fine now. He rejoices in things that others take for granted, like having a voice to be able to make a phone call.

“Don’t start. I never thought this would happen to me in a million years,” Federle said, pointing to his oxygen bag and cane. “I never thought this would happen. And I’m sitting here.

Her advice to people trying to quit: “Keep trying. You must resign. Because you don’t understand how much you have to lose.

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