That isn’t fog you see rolling down Appian Way: those are vape clouds.
It is no secret that vaping and electronic cigarette use among college students has become increasingly popular over the last few years. According to a study done by drugabuse.gov, nicotine is highly addictive and is shown to be just as addictive as heroin and cocaine; yet, college students still choose to use e-cigarettes with nicotine. Why is that? Is vaping the new smoking? Is there a vaping problem on campus?
“I personally don’t think that Keene State has a vaping problem, but I believe we did before and it has gradually become better,” junior Kyle Gilmore stated. “During my sophomore year I would see everyone vaping, but now I don’t see it as much. It’s mostly during social events.”
Coordinator of Wellness Education Tiffany Mathews stated that there are a variety of reasons why students choose to vape. “Perhaps [students] started years ago and are addicted to nicotine and haven’t decided to quit,” Mathews explained. “Some folks might think that vaping is safe. So when they started they did not hear of any health consequences that come from vaping. Another reason students might be vaping is that they think that everyone else is doing it.”
It may seem as if a lot of college students are vaping, especially when you walk around campus. However, according to the National College Health Administration study in the fall of 2018, that may not be the case.
Under the actual use of the e-cigarette, 72.2 percent of males and 79.9 percent of females stated that they have never used electronic cigarettes in their life. Surprisingly, only 16.8 percent of males and 11 percent of females said that they have used in the past 30 days. Any use can constitute one hit from a vape pen.
On the other hand, college students believe that other college students vape much more than they actually do. Under the “Perceived Use” table from the same study, 15.4 percent of males and 11.2 percent of females believed that was the percentage of college students that have never used a vape. Then, 76 percent of females and 82.2 percent of females were the percentages that they thought other college students vaped in the last 30 days.
People who vaped originally thought that it was safe, but now, according to the CDC, respiratory illnesses tied to vaping have reached an all-time high as of November 7, 2019, with 2,051 cases. There has been a case of respiratory illness in every state except Alaska.
“Some people might think that [vaping] is safe,” Mathews stated. “Now we are seeing people coming up to the Wellness Center and we are hearing it from other staff that people might be concerned about this. Some students are coming in and are ready to quit.”
According to Mathews, it is important to discuss the actual numbers, not just the perceived happenings. “In health promotion, we talk about the difference between what is actually happening versus the perceived behaviors,” Mathews explained. “There is something called the Social Norms Theory that suggests that when a population who believes that a majority of people are doing a certain thing, then that actually drives certain people to start behaviors that may or may not be good for them. In this situation, it would be a behavior that is not good for them.”
“In our social marketing campaign we will oftentimes say ‘hey, here’s the truth.’ Most people aren’t doing this, but you think that most people are,” Mathews discussed.
Although vaping is supposed to be marketed as a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes, Gilmore thinks that vaping is a way to fit in around campus. “Vaping definitely is seen as a way to fit in,” Gilmore explained. “I had a personal experience with vaping my sophomore year of college. I see everyone with a Juul and using it, so what do I do? I go out and buy a Juul to hop on the trend. Why did I hop on that trend? To fit into the society/community.”
Vaping illnesses are also linked not just to electronic cigarettes, but to vape devices with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which have also been linked to respiratory illnesses because they contain Vitamin E. According to a New York Times article, Vitamin E has been identified as a “very strong culprit” in lung injuries related to vaping THC.
However, just because most illnesses are coming from vape devices with THC, that does not mean that other vape devices that do not contain THC are safe.
Now that the weather is getting colder, cold and flu season is here. It is good to keep your immune system intact, but if you vape you are at risk to have a weaker immune system. According to Mathews, “Having a foreign substance in your body weakens your immune system. It can restrict your breathing by inhaling the vapor and by having a foreign substance in your body and it can damage blood vessels. By weakening the immune system, it takes students longer to overcome the cold or the flu.”
This cannot only lead to students getting sick from having a weak immune system but it can also lead students to miss valuable time in the classroom because they are sick. Once you start taking the foreign substance out of your body, it gives your immune system time to heal and rejuvenate.
The Wellness Center takes vaping seriously and when a student comes in with cold or flu symptoms, one of the questions that the nurses ask is “Do you use electronic cigarettes?” Take these wise words from Mathews: “Your body and lungs are not designed to inhale anything besides oxygen.”
From personal experience, and since working here since 2007, Mathews has noticed a shift from smoking to vaping. “Three years ago was when I first started seeing [vaping] on campus,” Mathews said. “Two years ago it really started to grow.”
Mathews stresses that if you are a student who uses vape products and are experiencing any respiratory symptoms, you can call the Wellness Center’s health services team to be further assessed.
Connor Crawford can be contacted at