By Amanda Cavoto
Accessibility, financially attainable, a satisfying taste and smell—these are among the reasons vaping is sweeping an entire generation of non-cigarette smokers off their feet.
What started for some as “just one time,” has became a nicotine addiction.
Sam Pansa, a junior studio art-photography major, began her vaping experience with her friends in her teens.
“My friends, they all vaped and told me, ‘it’s really cool, you gotta get into it,’” Pansa says. “I was making bad decisions for myself at 17, so I went for it.”
In 2015, the U.S. surgeon general reported that e-cigarette use among high school students had increased by 900 percent, and 40 percent of young e-cigarette users had never smoked regular tobacco. Pansa never smoked cigarettes before she began vaping.
There is a significant decrease in student cigarette smoking, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About six of every 100 high school students, or 5.8 percent, reported in 2019, they smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days—
a decrease from 15.8 percent in 2011.
When products like JUUL, whose mission is to “improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers by eliminating cigarettes,” came out in 2015, it actually brought nicotine and addiction into the lives of an entirely different population: teens and young adults.
JUUL has been under public and government scrutiny and is facing several lawsuits for advertising its products to teens and non-smokers. The company is being accused of enticing users with fruity, non-harsh smelling “flavors” like cucumber, crème, fruit medley, mango and mint. Teens and college students jumped on the easily accessible, financially attainable newest vaping product.
Pansa says her friends introduced her to the different types of flavors when she first started smoking.
“The fruit ones, those are the good ones, the ones they want to ban. Strawberry, kiwi combo and rocket pop, the ones based off the red, white and blue Popsicles,” says Pansa.
Emily Rosenthal, coordinator of the SCSU Wellness Center, says that fruity flavors leads students to believe it is not as harmful or harsh as regular cigarettes.
N.Y. Attorney General Letitia James announced that New York is suing JUUL Labs, Inc., for what it calls, “deceptive and misleading” marketing to youth. Similar lawsuits against JUUL have also been filed in California and North Carolina.
Those high school students who were originally exposed to JUUL as teens, are now in college and entering their adult life. But now, after years of marketing to the youth with fruity flavors, a pleasant aroma that interrupts cigarette stigma, and the misconception that vaping is not as harmful or addictive as cigarettes, has left people like Vicki Adams, the Tobacco Program coordinator at SCSU, a whole new battle.
“The introduction of JUUL started an entirely new phenomenon to college students smoking,” Adams says. “It really set us back.”
With increasing emotional and financial stressors to college students, vaping has turned into a coping mechanism, according to Rosenthal.
“They feel as though these products help with other stressors that they’re dealing with. That’s one way to cope. So what we try to do is help find other ways to cope with these serious issues.”
Stress and anxiety reduction are often key components when Adams and Rosenthal talk to students about why they started and continue to smoke.
Another appeal to vaping is its low cost to maintain and its accessibility to students.
“You’re alone, you’re doing nothing but just sitting on your computer so you’re like ‘why not just vape?’” says Pansa.
Pansa says her favorite vape, VOOPOO, costs her about $25 a month to fill up. Furthermore, she says the device is convenient because it is lightweight and easy to use.
Despite the hype, Adams says vaping is an unnecessary risk.
“There are really no benefits from using tobacco products or vaping,” says Adams. “Those who suffer with mental illness and use nicotine containing products, a lot of studies have shown, can see worsening symptoms while there are many benefits to quitting for their mental health.”
According to The Truth website, tobacco and vaping companies deliberately market to people who suffer with mental illness. According to its website, in 2016, 28 percent of adults with any mental illness reported current use of cigarettes compared to 18.4 percent of adults with no mental illness. The most common causes of death among people with mental illness are heart disease, cancer and lung disease, which can all be caused by smoking.
“They know about the risks. They want to quit. They want help,” says Rosenthal, “but they’re finding it’s hard to quit because they are addicted to the nicotine in these devices.”
JUUL products were reported on Truth.com to have over double the amount of nicotine than cigarettes. Using chemical nicotine salts, a stronger form of nicotine than used in regular cigarettes, leave students unaware of the potential addictiveness in these products when they first begin smoking.
Furthermore, e-cigarettes have had some quality control issues. Carcinogens have been found in some e-cigarette vapor.
Now that Pansa smokes regularly, nicotine is a main component of why she continues to vape.
“Nicotine is nicotine, wherever I am,” says Pansa.
“No one starts juuling with the hope of getting addicted,” Adams says. “Especially those students that have started earlier, in high school, when their brains were even younger in developing, it’s even harder to quit.”
Nicotine has been studied for its impact on brain development in adolescents and young adults and according to Adams, nicotine negatively impacts cognition and memory.
“Addiction in itself—when someone is addicted to a product and they are feeling the withdrawal effects—might make students unable to concentrate as effectively so there is definitely a concern with academics,” Adams says.
Fortunately, Rosenthal says that students are now starting to learn the risks of vaping and recognize that they have been manipulated.
“The level of nicotine is so much greater than traditional cigarettes. Students are not aware of this. So their withdrawal symptoms are just so much greater,” says Adams
Southern has been proactively working toward deterrence and helping students quit vaping.
In August 2015, Southern declared themselves a tobacco- and vape-free campus, amongst 1,000 other universities nationwide.
“It’s a critical time of development of either initiating tobacco use or not. By having a tobacco-free policy, it lessens the likelihood that people will initiate tobacco use,” says Adams. “Over 2,000 other universities have tobacco-free policies.”
While the policy was created before the grant money was received, it has helped the position of tobacco program coordinator along with cessation events for students. The JUUL and Tobacco Exchange Event, is where students can become educated on the effects of smoking and give up their tobacco product or device in exchange for a flash drive and a gift card.
After the rise of popular vaping products, Rosenthal says Southern made a smart decision to become a tobacco- and vape-free campus.
“Up until vaping came along the majority of [cigarette] smokers became smokers in the college years,” Rosenthal says. “If we can provide an environment that is tobacco- and vape-free people are less likely to start smoking.”
Adams says that statistically speaking if someone does not start smoking by age 25 they will most likely never start.
Students are becoming more aware of the dangers and how unknown the long -term effects of vaping are.
“The good thing is people are starting to really pay attention and realize that these devices are dangerous. People are dying. A 17-year-old boy in the Bronx died from vaping related injuries,” Adams says.
With this information being more accessible, students are not only seeking help for themselves, but also for their friends.
“We care about other people more than ourselves sometimes,” Adams says.
“We’ve had more students in the one month come to us for help quitting than we did in the last two years,” says Rosenthal.
The best way to reach students, and young people, is through events, educational presentations and talking to them about the risks, according to Adams.
Adams and Rosenthal work with the Wellness Center, counseling services, and Student Health Services to give students the resources they need to quit.
“We are most ready and able to help with Vicki as a tobacco treatment specialist and with nicotine replacement therapy as well,” says Rosenthal.
Free, confidential, one-on-one services are offered to students to help them learn healthy coping mechanisms in replacement of vaping or smoking.
The tobacco policy is a gateway to promote a healthier campus for students.
“We value education, we value health. To make a person the healthiest and academically success is to be free of addiction. Other students to breathing fresh, clean air,” Adams says.