Out of all the habits college students pick up, vaping might be one of the biggest. There’s something many find so enticing about this small stick full of flavored air, that they try it out and get hooked. If you’re wondering if you should quit before you’re stuck, or a long-time buyer wondering what it’s doing to you, Distraction aims to clear some of the smoke.
A familiar cloud of thick, sweet-scented smoke floats your way, and you realize that someone around you has just taken a big hit of their vape. Are you at a house party or in a club? Nope, you’re just at Richter Library, working on a paper.
If you ask any University of Miami student, “Can I hit your vape?” they’ll likely pull out their very own pocket sized and colorful e-cigarette. Nowadays, it seems like everyone vapes. But how did we get here? How is it possible that we, as a society, almost completely abandoned cigarette culture and then somehow collectively revived our nicotine addiction.
Marketing professor Trinidad Callava explained how tobacco companies were initially able to build such a powerful empire.
“Their marketing was excellent, based on powerful identities, i.e. the Marlboro Man,” she said.
The downfall of tobacco companies was largely caused by an outpouring of public health concern and the 2009 Tobacco Control Act “really put the nail in the coffin,” said Callava.
This act, also referred to as the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, gave the FDA the power to regulate the manufacturing, distribution, and marketing of tobacco products. The passage of this act completely curtailed any hope and control tobacco companies had over glamorizing their public image.
Like tobacco companies during their prime, e-cigarette companies use a boatload of enticing advertising strategies to promote their products. They’re often marketed as a way for smokers to decrease nicotine usage and engage their oral fixation in a safe way.
As Callava puts it, their products are “aesthetically pleasing, quite fashionable, and customizable.” Vapes come in fun flavors like mango, mint, and popular e-cigarette brand HQD Cuvie even has a “Miami Vice” flavor — whatever that means.
But are vapes really healthier than cigarettes? In some regards, yes. According to renowned pulmonologist Dr. Gustavo Ferrer, “research shows that most e-cigarettes have less content of toxic hydrocarbons [than cigarettes].”
However, Ferrer emphasized that vapes still expose users to the addictive chemical compound nicotine. In fact, some vapes have more nicotine than a normal cigarette.
“I wouldn’t call it healthier because nothing that is smoked is healthy,” said Ferrer in reference to e-cigarette usage. Some vapes even contain more nicotine than the average cigarette, a surprise to many vape users.
Yet, most young people grew up after the fall of the tobacco industry and weren’t introduced to e-cigarettes as an alternative to regular cigarettes. So how did this generation get so incredibly hooked?
A sophomore, who chose to remain anonymous, explained how she was introduced to vaping.
“My first time using a vape was about a year ago,” she said. “I tried one of my friend’s vapes while we were out, and realized that it gave me more of a buzz when I was drinking.”
After taking a hit out of boredom while sober, her addiction became just about impossible to avoid.
“I feel like it’s almost become a comfort object of sorts to hold in my hand, and satisfy an oral fixation,” she said. “The flavors just kind of serve as a bonus to an easily concealable method of doing exactly what cigarettes do.”
The same way that previous generations used cigarettes as appetite suppressants, many teens use vapes for the same reason.
The sophomore said that “especially here where we see so many people who look like they’re straight out of a high fashion magazine, it’s really easy to compare yourself to others.”
When the typical Miami weekend involves pool parties, boats, and beach days — it’s hard not to fall into the trap of unhealthy eating habits.
“I think vaping gave me a way to look and feel skinnier without having to deal with the hunger factor,” she added.
Not only can vapes fuel eating disorders, but they’re also full of mysterious and unnatural chemicals that are extremely unregulated, according to Ferrer.
“Another big issue is that the content of the e-cigarettes is not well controlled by the FDA,” said Ferrer. “Manufacturers can add oil-based products with drugs and flavors that are very dangerous to the lungs.”
According to the American Heart Association, e-cigarette vapor includes chemicals like diacetyl, volatile organic compounds, and metals like nickel, tin, and lead, all of which are linked to cancer, lung disease and more.
In a college environment where drinking alcohol, getting poor sleep, and subsisting off of junk food are all normalized, it’s easy to dismiss medical warnings about vapes as another thing that we know we “shouldn’t” do but do anyways.
However, vapes are nothing to play around with like a toy.
“Long term effects [of e-cigarette usage] are severe and debilitating, affecting every organ,” said Ferrer.
These can include medical problems like “strokes, memory issues, sinus problems, throat cancer, chronic bronchitis . . . heart attacks, [and] circulatory problems that can lead to amputation of toes [and] feet,” said Ferrer.
Ferrer has personally witnessed the impact of vapes with his own patients.
“I had a young college student that developed acute severe lung damage with holes in the lungs that required hospitalization,” said Ferrer. The student ultimately required permanent use of external assisted oxygen.
Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for all the vape fiends out there.
“The good news is that there is effective treatment to help people quit smoking and to treat the damages and symptoms,” Ferrer said.
Alleviation of social pressures after graduation can help remove some of the tendency towards smoking.
“I definitely think it’s harder to quit when I’m here because they have such a regular presence in party culture,” said the sophomore. “I don’t want to be a mom, or going to my job in the future, or even in graduate school still using vapes.”
While vapes might seem harmless in the moment, their effects can be far-reaching and much more severe than most people imagine. For those already addicted, try waning off vaping by either finding a nicotine fix that you can gradually decrease (i.e. a nicotine patch, or nicotine gum), or finding an alternative for your oral fixation — either with gum, a tasty beverage, or even hard candies — whatever’s most appealing to you. Though the effects of your addiction might be insignificant enough right now, a few years down the line, they might not be so reversible.
words_virginia suardi. design&photo_daniella pinzón.
This article was published in Distraction’s Winter 2022 print issue.