How students really feel about vaping

Photo credit: Lariat/Paloma Chacon

As the country faces the latest health risk to young people, vaping, lawmakers around the nation at both the state and federal levels grapple with how to solve the issue– However, a range of college students weigh in on the discussion.

“Sad addiction,” Ally Bernickie, a 20-year-old student studying political science at Saddleback College, says when asked to describe vaping in three words or less. She adds, “A good majority of young adults say they want to quit it, yet can’t find the will to do so because they’re so addicted.”

Bernnickie’s comments come on the heels of the national crisis that is affecting young adults and teens alike: Teens are more addicted to e-cigs than cigarettes today, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH).

Although many young adults and teens can describe what a vape is or the act of vaping, many say they do not know what is actually inside the product that has got them hooked. When the NIH published a report on Teens and E-cigarettes, data showed that 66% of teens believe it’s “just flavoring” they are inhaling.

Meantime, 13.7% percent “don’t know,” 13.2% say, “nicotine,” and 5.8% say “marijuana.”These numbers reflect a more significant problem of manufacturers generally not being required to state what is in vape products’ ingredients other than nicotine, such as harsh chemicals. As many people who vape become addicted to the nicotine inside the products, they also have the potential to fall victim to serious lung illnesses caused by chemicals, which can sometimes be fatal.

“People seem to think that vaping is a safe alternative to cigarettes,” says 22-year-old University of California Riverside economics student, Matthew Vitale. “But between the strong correlation between vape and cigarette use and the unknown risks of a product that’s only a few years old, teens might want to think twice before their next puff.”

Vaping was initially intended as an alternative to cigarette smoking to help nicotine-addicted adults quit, however, an increasing number of teens and young adults who have never smoked cigarettes before have caught onto the trend of vaping in the last five years. Data from the NIH report also shows that young people who have never smoked before were 30.7% more likely to start smoking after using vapes.

So how did vaping take off anyways? Many say it all began with advertising.

The way many large vape manufacturers have advertised their products has recently become the center of multiple lawsuits between large companies and many states, including California, where the case is being made that vape companies knowingly targeted a young demographic by promoting candy and fruit-flavored products.

What’s more, one of the most popular vape companies in the country, JUUL, which received significant investments by the makers of Marlboro cigarettes in 2018, has gone under fire for their products sleek tech-looking design, early advertisements showing young people vaping and promotion of flavored products in the past. Now, widespread debate over whether or not vape flavors should be banned at a federal level has made headlines in recent months.

“I think vape flavors should be banned, and I believe they do attract teens to vaping.” says a 20-year-old nursing student from Saddleback College, Madison Mann. “My friends who do vape, when it comes to choosing the juice, they always pick the flavor one. They never choose the tobacco flavored one.”

Yet, not all agree on this issue. Many students suggest that there’s more to the story than just flavors.

“I do not believe that outright banning of vaping flavors will dissuade teens from being attracted to them,” another 20-year-old, Nick Ortiz, of the University of California Irvine political science program, says.

Meantime, some students argue whether the vaping trend is genuinely an epidemic at all, stating to their knowledge there have not been“widespread health risks” and suggesting that it is merely a trend.

“It’s excessively prevalent, but it’s not an epidemic,” says 21-year-old Stanford engineering student, Philip Eykamp, who also says banning flavors is “not the government’s role.”

Although students have varying opinions on how to solve the issue of youth vaping -or whether or not to address it at all- knowledge and concern for potential risks continues to grow. Many students interviewed say the answer is simple, “just stay away.”

“Vaping is relatively new, and research regarding the effects are still in its infancy,” says18-year-old neurobiology major of Saddleback College, Sam Lockhart. “I don’t trust the companies that make e-cigs.”

Written by Paloma Chacon