Nick, a senior business student at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), started vaping two years ago after taking a hit from his friend’s Juul.
“I quickly began to look forward to hanging out with him so I could try his Juul again,” Nick, who didn’t want his real name associated with using the product, said. “Eventually, I decided that it couldn’t hurt to buy my own.”
Nick’s first hit quickly spiraled into a two-year long addiction, costing him nearly $60 a week until switching from Juul – which he described as “the iPhone of vapes,” – to a “Chinese knock-off vape” that took the price down to $15 a month, a big difference for a college student.
However, the addiction quickly turned into a concern, as for the first time in Nick’s life, (who describes himself as in “excellent health”) he was starting to get chest pain, around the same time that the “New York Times” articles on vaping-related death and illnesses were published at the end of August.
Once he saw those stories, he “realized it was time” to quit.
“I started to have severe shortness of breath and pain in my chest for days at a time,” Nick said. “I have never had breathing problems for any reason. The good feeling of a vape isn’t worth dying early. I decided to quit with my roommate. We both knew we would have to quit together, or it would never work because we would just hit each other’s [vapes]. We went out to a dumpster and ceremoniously smashed out vapes together. It was very freeing.”
A Juul is an e-cigarette that many people switch to while trying to curve their addiction to cigarettes. Recently, however, Juuls and related vaping products, like the “Suorin” that Nick used, have taken over college campus and become “the most commonly used form of tobacco among youth in the U.S.,” according to drugabuse.gov.
Health & Wellness at UNH put out a survey in spring 2019 with the help of New Hampshire Higher Education Alcohol and Other Drug Survey and the National College Health Assessment, and gathered the results that “most UNH students in the samples perceived that their peers used e-cigarettes daily or the majority of days in a month; however the actual use reported indicates that less than 9 percent of students use e-cigarettes that frequently.”
Other findings revealed that among the 15 percent of the UNH students that participated in the survey, “about 70 percent do not use tobacco/nicotine products at all, including e-cigarettes,” and that if they use the e-cigarette products, 24 percent used Juuls, 10 percent other vaping devices, and 8 percent cigarettes.
“There are students who begin vaping during first year as they experiment with their lifestyle away from home and the freedom that affords,” Health & Wellness Alcohol, Nicotine, and Other Drug Health Educator Nancy Bushinsky said. “Students begin to vape as a form of social connection and their perceptions of harm are decreased based on what they observe their peers doing or saying.”
According to data from drugabuse.gov, 66 percent of vaping users don’t know what is in inside their e-cigarette, saying that they believe that it’s just flavoring. While 13 percent thinks that it’s only nicotine.
“What many people do not know is that vaping is a ‘misnomer,’” Bushinsky said. “There is no vapor e.g., steam, heated water, in vape products. These products use aerosol and other toxic chemicals as a means for nicotine absorption by a human. Aerosol is a known lung irritant. The chemicals have damaging and lasting health effects on the delicate structures of the lungs.”
On the Juul website, the ingredients to their “pods” are listed as: propylene Glycol and Glycerine (also sued in antifreeze according to CDC), nicotine, flavor and benzoic acid, which creates the shortness of breath and coughing reaction, and can also cause irritation to the lungs. Any time a substance is burned in a vaping device, lungs are exposed to harmful chemicals, according to drugabuse.gov, and some studies have shown low levels of cadmium, a toxic metal that can cause heart disease.
“Our observation at Health & Wellness is that those who vape remain at an elevated risk for upper respiratory infections when compared to the non-vaping/non-smoking population,” Dr. Peter Degnan from Health & Wellness said. “There may be several contributing factors to this observation, the most concerning being the deposition of violate oils deep in the small airways of the lungs that can cause inflammation and eventual plugging of the airways. This interferes with normal lung function and can set the stage for pneumonia and other respiratory complications.”
But besides harming lungs, vaping also has effects on the brain, according to Bushinsky, due to the high levels of nicotine.
“An undeveloped adolescent brain is significantly more prone to become addicted because the brain experiences the rush of nicotine as too much dopamine, causing it to down-regulate its natural production of dopamine, a neuro-transmitter responsible for our sense of enjoyment and well-being,” Bushinsky said. “These effects on brain structure, leave young people feeling dependent on a sense of well-being from nicotine or other substances. This is the essence of the process of becoming physiologically addicted as continued use results in the development of tolerance.”
And e-cigarettes are especially addictive because of how easy it is to vape anywhere at any time. Under the UNH’s student code of conduct, the tobacco policy restricts the use of smoking cigarettes and all related items, in facilities or grounds owned by the university.
Sophomore undeclared student Kaitlyn Antonides doesn’t vape but talked about how, in many of her classes at UNH, she has seen people vaping and trying to hide it from professors.
“I haven’t seen it as much this semester,” she said. “But, the last two semesters I did. People would hide it in their sleeves, say that they were stressed out for an exam, and take a hit to feel better. I’ve never seen a professor notice vaping or call a student out if they do.”
Vaping anywhere was also another topic that Nick touched upon, saying that during a quick trip to the bathroom, elevator or library, he would be able to hit his vape. But since quitting, Nick is a month clean, and says he feels healthier than ever.
“It’s so freeing to know that I can sit through an entire class without the urge to ‘go to the bathroom,’ and get a fix,” he said. “I’ve found that I’m living much more in the moment which is great.”
If a student is interested in quitting vaping, Health & Wellness has many resources including education sessions and appointments with professionals, all available to book online, or by calling the office at (603) 862-9355.