That’s the message Anna Carey, 16, delivered Friday during a roundtable discussion about e-cigarettes at the UNT Health Science Center.
The high school junior talked about how she steadily used e-cigarettes since her freshman year until she landed in the hospital last month with chemically induced pneumonia.
“It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life,” said Carey, who is now home schooled in Fort Worth. “You don’t realize how much you need to breathe until you can’t.
“I strongly believe I needed to be hospitalized to quit vaping.”
Vaping is when a person inhales and exhales a chemical produced by some form of an e-cigarette.
It is a habit that has become popular with high school and even middle school students. Thousands of cases of lung injury have been reported across the country, including 24 in Tarrant County.
Officials say they fear those numbers are going to continue to grow.
“This is a full blown public health crisis,” said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who participated in the roundtable and has a bill that would curtail underage purchases of e-cigarettes online. “We need to recognize it as such.
“We are talking about a campaign to addict children.”
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and others admitted that the nationwide vaping epidemic “snuck up on us all.”
But she wants Fort Worth — which has passed no smoking ordinances that include e-cigarettes — to help lead the way in curtailing the problem.
“I believe our area can be an example,” she said.
An example is what Carey now hopes to be.
She regrets all the times she sold e-cigarettes and products to classmates who continue to vape.
“I got so many people addicted,” she said. “The reason I’m here is because I need people to stop.”
E-cigarettes began, for some, as a way to stop smoking tobacco.
Through the years, flavor options began to grow, now reaching the thousands, with flavors such as fruit, cotton candy and gummy bears.
But the industry wasn’t regulated and no one really knew what people were inhaling, health experts at the roundtable said.
“It was a good thing gone bad,” UNTHSC President Michael Williams said.
The state’s first death from a vaping related illness was reported in early October. State health officials couldn’t release much information about the person who died, but noted it was an older adult woman from North Texas.
Texas health officials have identified 210 cases in people between 13 and 75 who vaped and have severe lung disease.
Of those cases, 109 have been in North Texas, Texas Health and Human Services data shows.
State lawmakers worried about the outbreak of vaping cases recently took testimony from health experts and advocacy groups about what could help alleviate the growing health concern in Texas.
Across the country, 2,300 cases have been reported in 49 states through late November. Recently, vitamin E acetate was named as a “chemical of concern” among those with vaping injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At least 47 deaths have been confirmed in 25 states and Washington, D.C., according to the CDC.
Symptoms of lung-related illnesses include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, coughing and, at times, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Earlier this year, Cornyn, along with Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, introduced the Preventing Online Sales of E-Cigarettes to Children Act.
The measure, which has passed the U.S. House, would create online safeguards to protect young buyers.
It requires online merchants to verify the age of customers for sales and deliveries of the product. Packages shipped must be labeled to show they carry tobacco products. And online merchants must comply with all local and state tobacco tax requirements.
Cornyn said Friday that the bill has passed the House and he hopes it can move through the Senate next week, potentially landing on President Donald Trump’s desk before the end of the year.
But this bill is just a start, he said.
Cornyn said he hopes the Federal and Drug Administration will help crack down on the use of vaping products by minors. And he personally will support legislative efforts to do the same.
“You don’t know what you are inhaling until it’s too late,” he said.
Carey said she learned that lesson the hard way.
She said doctors told her that her lungs are permanently damaged and she can never play sports again.
“The scariest part about it honestly is the unknown,” she said. “Doctors don’t know how much it will heal.”