New studies stifle vape debate

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The health risks of vaping are heavily debated, but several new studies have shed some light on the subject.

E-cigarettes hit U.S. markets in 2006 and have since gained intense popularity, particularly with those who are college-aged. Teen smoking is lower than it has been in 24 years, but in a study provided by the Tobacco Control Journal, 24 percent of teenagers say they have used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days.

It’s not uncommon to see students using e-cigarettes near campus, although Dixie State University has a smoke-free campus policy, which prohibits the use of e-cigarettes on campus.

Vaping is commonly used as an alternative to smoking. Some use it as a method to quit smoking cigarettes, and Natasha Corral, a junior accounting major from Odessa, Texas, said it is frustrating to see people start the habit simply because it “looks cool.” 

“It’s kind of frustrating when you see people use it as a trend because it takes a lot of the seriousness away from how much it can help [smokers quit],” Corral said.

In the article “What are Kids Vapings?” by the Southwest Public Health Department reported that from 2011-15, surveys in Washington County showed there was a 300 percent increase in teens who use e-cigarettes.

In state and local laws, e-cigarettes and vape pens are defined as tobacco products. 

“For some reason, the tobacco industry has confused consumers about e-cigarettes not being tobacco products,” said Kye Nordfelt, director of health promotion at the Southwest Public Health Department.

E-cigarettes and vape pens and the liquid used in them are absolutely tobacco products, Nordfelt said. Nicotine is the main ingredient in the liquid burned in these devices and nicotine is derived from the tobacco plant. 

“[Vaping] is creating a whole new generation of tobacco users, starting with our youth,” said Nordfelt.

Corral said she smoked cigarettes for six years. She quit cold turkey for about a year and has been using an e-cigarette for a year and a half. After quitting, she said the hardest part was watching her friends smoke cigarettes during social gatherings. She bought an e-cigarette so she could enjoy being outside with her friends during their smoke breaks.

“[It’s] better to have an e-cigarette than to actually get hooked back on cigarettes again,” Corral said.

There are better ways to quit smoking than switching to e-cigarettes, Nordfelt said. There are products and resources that have been proven to help end addiction, including a tobacco “quitline” people can call to get free nicotine replacement therapy if they qualify. Nordfelt said switching to e-cigarettes leaves many people still addicted to nicotine, and with nicotine, addiction sets in more quickly than with methamphetamine or heroin. 

Corral said the year-long break from nicotine helped minimize dependence once she started using an e-cigarette. Corral said she is OK being in classes without needing to use hers. 

“If it’s not there, I’m not worried,” Corral said. “I don’t need a break during class.”

Don Reid, chief of campus police, said there have only been a couple of instances where campus police have been asked by a faculty member to intervene with someone vaping on campus. Both times, the person using an e-cigarette was reminded of the policy, and no further action was necessary, Reid said.

Vaping is marketed by tobacco companies to appear significantly safer than smoking, but Nordfelt said research is starting to show e-cigarettes are not harmless.

“The amount of misinformation out there is quite frightening,” Nordfelt said.

According to a study published last month by the American College of Chest Physicians titled “Acute Impact of Tobacco vs Electronic Cigarette Smoking on Oxidative Stress and Vascular Function,” the use of e-cigarettes leads to hardening of the aorta artery. As that artery hardens, it leaves users susceptible to heart attacks and strokes in the same way smoking has been proven to in the past, Nordfelt said.

Everyone’s experience with e-cigarettes is different, depending on your motivation behind using it, desired effects, and which product you are using, Corral said. She also said anyone who decides to pick up e-cigarettes should be mindful of the signs of dependency.

“Moderation is key for most everything,” Corral said. “It can range from alcohol to vaping to your favorite dessert.”

On the other hand, Nordfelt said it’s best to avoid e-cigarettes altogether. Some college students who try them as a recreational thing may never go back to it, but many will end up encountering an addiction they didn’t anticipate, Nordfelt said.