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How Colleges Can Help Students With Their Vaping Addictions

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A women with a brown hair pulled back is vaping in front of a black background

Vaping products, also known as e-cigarettes, initially emerged under the guise of helping cigarette smokers diminish their addiction. However, regardless of their supposed purpose, vapes have had an increasing stronghold on a group of people who were never heavy smokers, to begin with. The discreet nature and marketing of vaping products have allowed children to become increasingly at risk for nicotine addictions. Popular e-cigarette company, JUUL, has even been prosecuted for specifically designing their products to appeal to young people.

While recent years have seen increased restrictions on underage e-cigarette use, many young people in America still find it easy to feed their nicotine dependencies. A 20-year-old student named Abby, at the University of South Carolina, said that even though the state has recently raised the minimum age necessary to buy nicotine products, she is hardly ever prohibited from buying vaping products. Abby was asked whether she thought her college should invest in anti-vaping programs.

“I don’t think I, or any of my friends really, would ever use them. I would prefer that USC address some more important issues like our suicide rate,” Abby said.

However, Lexi, a student at Orange Coast College, said that while she doesn’t view her nicotine dependency as a problem, she does think that colleges could provide support groups for students that did want to curb their usage. 

“As someone who has been through the 12 Step program and really believes in AA, I think that at the very least support groups can remind students that they CAN quit and provide a new group of people for users to associate with, people that wouldn’t be vaping all the time. I don’t think that programs like this would need to take up a large amount of college resources; it can even be student-run,” Abby said.

Furthermore, while Lexi doesn’t have any plans to curtail her vaping habits, she certainly understands why some students would want to.

“‘Nic-sick’ is a real thing; if you vape too much you can get headaches and stomach aches, but you just can’t stop using because you’re dependent, so you keep vaping and make yourself feel worse and worse,” Lexi said.

‘Nic-sick,’ formally known as nicotine poisoning, is the reason why many people decide to quit vaping. A 21-year-old student named Baxter from Middlebury College described the feeling of nicotine addiction.

“It makes you feel so sick that it’s hard to deny that this stuff is really bad for the body,” Baxter said.

Students have a wide variety of reasons for why they vape. Both Lexi and Abby first tried vaping during their senior year of high school when in social settings. “I would say that, at first, I tried it solely because other people were doing it” Abby stated. However, she also claimed that her vape usage really took off about a year ago. “I got really, really stressed out with school, so I started using it to study. It was just so easy to do; I could bring my vape to the library or to class and just hit it in the bathroom whenever I wanted to.” Furthermore, Baxter commented that vaping was so easy that he even tried switching to cigarettes to curb his nicotine addiction.

“Smoking cigarettes forces you to go outside, while I could use my vape practically anywhere,” Baxter said.

Lexi, on the other hand, states that she uses her vape to stay sober. “I’ve been sober for over a year now; as someone with alcoholic tendencies it’s just good to have something I can depend on that doesn’t break my sobriety.” When asked if the growing evidence that vaping can cause serious health problems bothers her, Lexi replied, “Honestly no, I mean it does make me feel sick sometimes, but comparatively I feel like I am much healthier now than I did before I got sober.” Baxter, on the other hand, is greatly concerned by the toll vaping can take on young bodies. “We’ve heard about kids in the news that vape so much that they put themselves into comas; that’s terrifying.” Abby agreed that she gets some anxiety about vaping because, “we just don’t know how this will affect our health down the line.”

The medical community lacks a significant body of literature on the effects of long-term vaping on the body. While it has been proven that nicotine, the primary agent in vape cartridges, can increase one’s chances of having a heart attack, no one is entirely sure what else is inside the vapor produced by e-cigarettes. Furthermore, long-term studies on the effects of vapes may not be published for years or decades to come. Despite what numerous vape companies would have you believe, e-cigarettes are not a reliable tool for quitting tobacco. As a matter of fact, the FDA has not approved this method of curbing smoking habits.

E-cigarettes have also proven as deadly over the past couple of years. The CDC has confirmed 60 deaths linked to vape usage as of January 21, 2020. However, the majority of these cases resulted from unregulated and illegally sold THC cartridges. This particular form of vaping has grown in popularity due to its discreteness. However, because the sale of THC products is illegal in many states, young people, such as college students, that purchase these products have no idea what is in them. 

Finally, vaping products have developed an incredible hold on young people. E-cigarettes have been the most commonly used tobacco product among American youth since 2014. The U.S. Surgeon General reported that vape usage increased more than 900 percent during 2011-2015. In the year 2018, it was reported that 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students vape regularly. These figures are especially problematic because e-cigarette dependency at such an early age paves the way for a lifetime of nicotine dependency and can be detrimental to brain development.

Statistics like these make it obvious that anti-vaping campaigns need to be implemented in educational curriculums far before college. However, universities must find a way to support the population of their students that have a nicotine dependency and wish to quit.

“All of the people I know who have quit [vaping] did it cold turkey. With outside support I would hope that the quitting process would be a little easier than that,” Baxter said.

Universities as communities have a critical role to play in remedying this public health threat. This role, quite frankly, must go beyond declaring their institutions to be “smoke-free campuses.” College students, especially if they are over 21, cannot be coerced into ditching nicotine. Young adults must be educated about the threats of vaping and supported as they transition through nicotine withdrawal. 

However, while all of the students interviewed agreed that the effects of vaping in the long-term are unknown and that their colleges should make resources available for people who want to quit, they also qualified that colleges have far bigger issues to address. Middlebury College has no professional resources to help students recover from mental health challenges such as eating disorders. In fact, the nearest eating disorder specialist is located an hour away from campus. Furthermore, Abby feels that the University of South Carolina’s mental health facilities are severely inadequate.

“I can think of 3 suicides on campus in the past two years off the top of my head, but there’s definitely more,” Abby said.

When colleges decide that they want to take initiative to curb nicotine use on campus, they must realize that all they are doing is treating the symptom and not the disease. It is easy to say that young kids like to vape simply because of all the fun, fruity flavors. However, many students have evaded a vaping addiction until they were overcome with stress, or confronted with the potent temptations of party culture.

Universities should make resources available for students that are fed up with vaping. Unfortunately, however, in order to truly address the root of the problem they have to take the time to consider what is making us want to vape in the first place and how they are partially responsible. People abuse nicotine for a reason; these reasons do not simply disappear, even if someone is able to successfully ditch nicotine.