With growing fear that use of e-cigarette devices such as Juuls can lead to respiratory conditions later in life, students are reevaluating the use of vape pens, e-cigarettes and Juuls on campus.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, declared a public health emergency yesterday, announcing a four-month ban on the sale of vaping products. After conferring with medical professionals, Baker concluded that the danger to public health was too great to wait on banning vaping products. Baker’s ban is currently the most far-reaching official response to the vaping crisis. Last December, Massachusetts increased the statewide age requirement for buying tobacco from 18 to 21, in part due to increased concerns surrounding vaping.
After hundreds of reports of vaping-related lung injuries, the Trump administration announced its plans to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and nicotine pods on Sept. 11. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently stated that over 530 people have experienced vaping-related lung injuries, and numbers are still increasing. Eight people have died as of press time.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health directed 25,000 public health officials last month to report any cases of lung disease associated with vaping. There are currently no confirmed cases of vaping-related lung disease in Massachusetts, though 61 cases are under investigation, five of which have been reported to the CDC.
E-cigarettes release vapors by heating up a liquid solution, imitating smoking. These liquids often include substances such as nicotine, THC — the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — or flavoring, among other substances. The negative side effects of e-cigarette use are often studied in the context of nicotine-infused or THC-infused liquid solutions, but studies from journals such as Radiology have also noted side effects from vaping without psychoactive ingredients.
Though Amherst does not collect data on vaping, other NESCAC school newspapers have conducted surveys on the prevalence of vaping on campus. A 2018 survey from The Williams Record found that 42 percent of students had used an e-cigarette at least once in their lives. A similar 2019 survey from The Bowdoin Orient found that 29 percent of the incoming first-years had vaped at least once before arriving at school, a 4 percent increase from the previous incoming class.
According to Emily Jones, director of Student Health Services at the college, vaping is “somewhat prevalent” among Amherst students. When students come to the health center with respiratory problems, Jones now asks whether they vape. Frequently, students answer that they have vaped recently or are currently vaping, she said.
“Sometimes they get sick more often or they cough a lot,” said Dan Schlakman ’23, speaking about his observations of friends who vape.
Nicotine is an addictive substance, which often makes it difficult for those who vape regularly to stop. Vape juice can contain far more nicotine than a traditional cigarette. Juul Labs, which holds over 70 percent of the U.S. e-cigarette market share, sells pods of vape juice that contain the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.
According to one first-year who, like others interviewed in this article, wished to remain anonymous for fear of potential legal and social repercussions, vaping became a way to cope with her stress. In March this year, she started vaping with disposable, single-use vape pens. As her vaping consumption increased, she purchased her own Juul-brand vape pen. She currently vapes between one-fourth to one-half of a Juul pod per day.
“Vaping was more accessible to me than substances like alcohol,” she said. “It’s not a good way to channel your stress, but it’s how I channeled mine.”
Vaping is also a social activity for many students. A sophomore told The Student that he frequently vapes on the weekends with friends. Since he doesn’t own his own Juul pen, he doesn’t vape as often as many of his peers, so he isn’t as concerned about developing health issues.
Still, during athletic practices, he sometimes wonders if vaping may have diminished his lung stamina.
Another first year said that he started vaping at parties because all of his friends did. At the beginning, he didn’t vape frequently since he didn’t have his own vape pen, but once he bought a Juul, he vaped at least once a day and soon became addicted to nicotine. Every time he developed a cough, he would worry that it was caused by vaping, but he couldn’t stop using his Juul. He hated the feeling of being dependent on nicotine — and Juul pods are expensive — so he quit vaping two weeks ago. The first few days were difficult, but he recommends that anyone trying to stop vaping keep themselves busy. He would support a vaping ban, he added; he credits having limited access to vape pods with helping him quit vaping.
Schlakman noted that he has some friends who will vape at all hours of the day, from the moment they wake up and immediately after class. He says they are often trying to find their next pack of Juul pods.
Professor of Neuroscience Sarah Turgeon said that no matter the delivery method, nicotine is a highly addictive substance. According to Turgeon, research has shown that early exposure to nicotine changes the way an animal’s brain responds to nicotine as they age.
“When you get exposed to nicotine in adolescence, it actually does change the brain such that it does have more addictive potential in adulthood,” Turgeon said.
Though she has tried, the first year has been unable to quit vaping. She is concerned enough about the negative health effects to lessen the frequency of her vaping, but nicotine addiction serves as a deterrent to quitting. Still, she supports the Trump administration’s ban on flavored e-cigarettes.
“The teen vaping epidemic is scary, and it’s only getting worse because it’s so accessible now. It’s alarming that teens are getting into nicotine at such an early age,” she said.
Tyler Marovitz ’20 has also noticed the addictive nature of Juuls among his friends.
“I have a friend who Juuls every day. He’s told me that when he’s tried to take a few days off of Juuling he would become irritable. He had headaches, trouble concentrating and feels the need to Juul again,” says Marovitz.
Marovitz added that he doesn’t think e-cigarettes are a safe device, especially in light of the recent reports of related illnesses and deaths.
Public health officials in support of the ban have argued that the fruity flavors of vape juice make vaping more attractive to teenagers. A 2013-2014 report from the Food and Drug Administration’s Population and Assessment of Tobacco and Health found that 81 percent of youth and 86 percent of young adults reported that their first tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, was flavored. In addition, 79 percent of youths aged 12 to 17 and 89 percent of young adults aged 18 to 24 reported that they used tobacco products because they came in flavors they enjoyed.
Juul Labs, the nation’s largest producer of vape products, pulled many of its flavored nicotine pods from retail locations last year in response to widespread alarm over the rise of vaping among teens. Juuls, however, are still readily accessible in the Amherst area, available at nine retail locations within five miles of Amherst College.
E-cigarettes emit a chemical aerosol, not just water vapor and nicotine as many people believe, Turgeon said. According to pulmonologists who have treated patients with vaping-related lung problems, in many cases patients have oils and fats from substances in vape juice built up in their lungs.
According to Jones, “it has never been a medical recommendation” to replace cigarettes with vape pens. Instead, she advocates other methods of nicotine replacement such as nicotine gum or patches.
Jones added that any student attempting to stop vaping should should seek help from the health center.
“We know so little about the associated risks [of vaping] — especially with the lack of regulation on the additives,” she said.