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Lois Skillings: Maine has a lung issue — a Trek Across Maine will help


According to the American Lung Association, Maine’s lung cancer incidence rate is among the highest in America (46th overall), while early diagnosis and survival also lag behind many other states. It doesn’t help that vaping is on the rise: Between 2017 and 2019, the number of Maine high school students who use e-cigarettes increased from 15 percent to nearly 30 percent. A school principal in Washington County put it this way: “Vaping is all over the place.”

Nicotine addiction is real — and rising. Even more troubling is that many Mainers are developing that addiction at a young age, making it all the more difficult to kick the habit later in life.

And policymakers are taking notice. Back in 2019, Gov. Mills launched a public education campaign aimed at teenagers, warning young Mainers about the risks associated with vaping. More recently, the Portland City Council voted unanimously to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, joining more than 300 communities around the country that have restricted the sale of such products. When the ban goes into effect this June, our parents and our children will be able to celebrate a major victory for public health, and I hope this ban spreads throughout our state. This is personal for me, having lost both of my parents to lung disease and having seen so many patients struggle to breathe throughout my nursing career.

Much more work needs to be done to create a tobacco-free future—and we can do it. On the lung health front, public awareness is one component. Advocacy and policymaking are two others. But we also shouldn’t underestimate the reach of fundraising events that empower those on the front lines with new resources to promote healthy lungs.

One such event is the American Lung Association’s Trek Across Maine, which Mid Coast Hospital is proud to sponsor again in 2022. Our team will once again ride in the Trek this year, traversing almost 200 miles in three days. In 2007, the Mid Coast Hospital team was led by Carl DeMars, MD, raising over $7,000 in support of the American Lung Association. We have been proud to participate ever since, raising funds in the name of lung health.

This year, we are even more excited. With in-person attendance on the rise, the 2022 Trek Across Maine will once again start and end in Brunswick at Thomas Point Beach, which is right around the corner from our hospital campus on Medical Center Drive. The Trek’s overall goal is to raise $1 million, and Trek participants have already raised six figures for the greater good.

We can get to $1 million, but only if other Mainers cycle across the state. Now is the time to do more for healthy lungs. Come join the Trek.

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You can support clean air and help end the vaping epidemic. You can support the policymakers who are turning advocacy into action. Events like the Trek—coupled with the critical work done by teams of pulmonary clinicians at local hospitals—are indispensable in our work to defeat lung cancer and prevent lung disease.

If anything, the last two years have taught us that respiratory issues hit close to home. Either directly or indirectly, we have all been affected by lung-related issues since the COVID-19 pandemic began, without even taking into account the prevalence of devastating diseases like lung cancer.

Solving Maine’s lung problem will take a collective, communal effort. From our hospitals to bike trails across the state, let’s come together. Be the solution.

Lois Skillings serves as president of Mid Coast–Parkview Health in Brunswick, ME.



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