College Students’ Perspectives on Vaping
By: Kassia Barajas
E-cigarettes and vapes remain a major problem on college campuses. While some students may use these products to quit smoking traditional cigarettes, this method is rarely successful because they are equally addictive. Between 18% and 40% of college students have tried or currently use vapes or e-cigarettes — well above the national average of adult e-cigarette use: 3.7%. To learn more about this issue, Tobacco Stops With Me surveyed University of Oklahoma students about their firsthand experiences with vaping and other tobacco products. These testimonials are harsh reminders of the known damage caused by e-cigarettes, including mental and emotional stressors, addiction and more.
Amanda, 19 – formerly addicted to nicotine
Amanda started vaping at the beginning of her sophomore year of college. After her friend offered her a vape hit, Amanda decided to buy her own device — even though she’d never smoked tobacco products and her parents did not smoke. A few months in, she wanted to quit but had already developed a nicotine addiction. Anytime she was stressed or bored, she would vape … and if she went without it for too long, she felt irritable and anxious. Concerned she couldn’t handle nicotine withdrawals and maintain a good GPA, Amanda felt trapped in an addiction she didn’t want to admit. Even after she did admit it, she still couldn’t give it up. After a year, she made quitting her top goal. It was a hard process but something she wanted to do for herself. Today, Amanda has experienced many positive outcomes from quitting but admits it is still a daily struggle.
Ryan, 21 – currently vapes
Ryan started vaping in high school. He has not considered quitting because he cannot imagine going through life without knowing he can fall back on vaping after a stressful class or before an upcoming exam. He got his first vape because all his friends had one, so he decided to try it out, too. He enjoyed the buzz and eventually developed a habit of hitting his vape to de-stress when he was in a bad mood. Over time, this practice grew into social vaping, then vaping because he was bored, and eventually, if he went a few hours without nicotine, his mood would plummet and he’d feel a strong urge to vape. He says that when vapes were first introduced, there was an assumption that because they were not cigarettes, they were healthy and safe. There was also a rumor circulating that vapes were invented to help adults stop smoking. It wasn’t until college that he learned about the harms of vaping, but by then he enjoyed it and didn’t care. Although he does feel like he’s addicted, he thinks he can quit if he wants to. He plans to quit when he graduates college and has to “become an adult.”
Jake, 19 – currently vapes
Jake’s story is similar to Ryan’s. He started vaping in high school because he and his friends all wanted to try it. They have continued to vape since then and have not considered quitting. Members of his friend group have smoked cigarettes a few times, but only consistently vape. Jake’s parents never smoked, and smoking was never a topic of conversation growing up. He said he remembers seeing the Truth commercials on TV as a child, but his parents never warned him about tobacco use. Going a few hours or days without vaping makes him feel anxious and irritable. He compared it to the feeling you experience when you leave your house without your keys. Overall, he doesn’t think vaping is a threat to his health. He says he’ll quit sometime, but it’s not planned.
Jenna, 21 – occasionally vapes
Jenna doesn’t consider herself a vape user. She has never owned a vape or felt the urge to buy one, but she occasionally vapes when her friends offer her a hit. Growing up, Jenna was taught that cigarettes were very bad for her. Jenna’s parents never smoked, but her grandmother did. Fortunately, her grandma quit and lived the remainder of her life with no health issues resulting from her tobacco use. Jenna says her close friends do not seem very interested in quitting vaping, despite knowing it is bad for their health. She believes it is going to become more prevalent in the coming years. After living through the rise of vaping’s popularity, she says it is now a very common habit, and she doesn’t see it decreasing anytime soon.
As you can see, common misconceptions abound in each one of these stories, which is the result of Big Tobacco’s widespread efforts to mislead the public and target young people. They hide the fact that one vape has the nicotine equivalent of one pack of cigarettes and push the narrative that vapes are healthy and not very addictive. In reality, they are just as addictive — or even more so. People trying to quit cigarettes use nicotine replacement therapies like gum, lozenges or patches, because they are a step toward quitting nicotine altogether, but vapes are just another addictive product designed to keep users coming back for more. They are not relaxing — the only relief users feel comes from feeding their addiction. Studies show that nicotine worsens mental and physical health, especially in youth, whose brains are still developing. That’s why Tobacco Stops With Me is working to combat Big Tobacco’s deadly lies with facts. Join the fight to better the health and wellbeing of all Oklahomans.
Kassia is a public relations student at the University of Oklahoma and a public relations intern at the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET).