Student vaping persists despite epidemic

Emily Bednar, FSW student, vapes on Lee campus. Photo by Cameron Gamache

By Cameron Gamache and Frankie Rowley

There’ve been over a thousand vaping-related hospitalizations in the past seven months. However, vaping remains constant on the Lee campus.

“I don’t see it as being dangerous,” said Dennis Gustler, a 29-year-old FSW student who began vaping to quit smoking. “I used to smoke two and a half packs of Newports a day. Now, I only hit my vape when I can, just like a cigarette, and I don’t vape inside.”

As of October 24, the Center for Disease Control has reported 1,604 cases of lung illnesses and 34 deaths attributed to vaping e-cigarette products, including THC.

Approximately 36% of those patients are 20 or younger, and 79% of the victims are under 35. The majority of FSW students are 24 years old or younger.

Gustler began vaping a year ago and hasn’t smoked in months.

“I can lower my nicotine levels, and my breath smells better, and I can actually taste food,” he said as he scarfed down a meat lover’s pizza in the FSW cafeteria.

As of October 3, the federal government plans to ban thousands of branded e-cigarette flavors. Some states like Michigan, Massachusetts, and New York already banned a majority of e-liquids.

Gustler is one of many vapers supporting vaping despite the epidemic. He fears bans will lead to something worse.

“It’s one of the hardest addictions to come over, nicotine-wise, coming from a drug addict,” said Gustler. “I think a majority of people will go back to smoking.”

Vaping is prominent with FSW students. They can be seen sneaking puffs on their way to class, or fogging up the S Building ping-pong room with clouds of artificial scents.

FSW took a stance on e-cigarettes way before the hospitalizations this year.

“Since 2010, the college has prohibited the use of tobacco on all college property and in college vehicles,” said Mark Lupe, FSW General Counsel.

“In 2014, we recognized the problem which was being created by electronic cigarettes and amended the policy to also prohibit the use of smoke-less tobacco and any other smoking or smoking simulation products including electronic cigarettes.” Students vape on campus despite this ban.

A number of them are noticing health issues of their own caused by vaping. Many panic and try to quit, though they face undesirable withdrawal symptoms.

“It’s like poison you enjoy drinking, at least for me. I know it’s bad and I notice red flags but somehow I ignore them because of the rush and feeling nicotine salts give you in moments of anxiety or uncomfortableness,” said 18-year-old freshman Marcus Sax.

“Everyone can relate to the shortness of breath and reduced athletic ability, but lately sharp pains in the chest and abnormal throbbing in the head and body have been concerning for me.”

16-year-old dual-enrolled student Trevor Zamniak has been addicted to vaping for two years now and has tried to quit for a while. He worries that if the ban takes effect, people will try to recreate nicotine flavors and sell them illegally. He argued this would be much worse than before.

“There is definitely a big enough addiction with kids, but the government [won’t] do anything about it, and kids already know not to vape and still do it,” said Zamniak.

Gustler spoke about his feelings towards teens like Sax and Zamniak who’ve never smoked but vape freely.

“I think [they’re] idiots in the first place. If you haven’t started smoking, then there is no reason to be vaping. I started smoking because it was ‘cool.’ Same concept.”

FSW professor of respiratory care Sidnee Karpel, expanded on the driving factors behind the teenage vaping phenomenon.

“Teenagers see e-cigarettes as fun and attractive. Social media makes them appealing, which leads to experimentation,” Karpel said. “Teenagers use vaping products differently than adults do, they tend to defy the norm. This is why we may see more teenagers with lung issues due to vaping.”

The CDC hopes a ban will slow production sales in the vaping industry.

FSW biology professor Frederick Posey thinks otherwise.

“There isn’t enough data to say that vaping is a major problem. Vaping has caused deaths, but the data is sparse, it [has to] be more widespread,” said Posey.

“It will only make the industry go underground. It won’t change the behavior of teenagers that already use these products, it will push them to another type of smoking.”

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