Vaping and young people: Why do we do it?

Photo Credit: Zoe Archambault

Photo Credit: Zoe Archambault

It’s late, it’s been a long night of clubbing downtown and I’m sitting on my front porch catching some fresh air and watching party-goers stumble home. A friend who’s sitting with me lazily hits his Juul, puffing out a minty cloud. Casually, he says he’s going to finish his pod, then break his Juul in half and throw it away. I ask why, as I know him to be quite a committed Juul user.

“People are dying,” he retorts, “I don’t want to die because of a stupid Juul.”

After a summer of controversy and countless reports of vaping injuries and related illnesses, why are young adults still fiending their e-cigs? A host of reasons were brought up by students as to why they started and continue to vape despite the large skull and crossbones that cover Juuls, e-cigs, vape juice and paraphernalia.

What exactly is vaping? According to the Centre on Addiction, vaping is “the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapour, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device.” Vapes and similar devices deliver nicotine to the user, giving them the much sought after head rush and relaxed head fog. Nicotine percentages can range from 1.5 to 5 per cent in regular Juul pods and other popular vaping devices, but can hit up to 50 per cent nicotine content in salt nicotine e-juices. Nicotine is the addictive compound that people get hooked on, whether delivered via dragging a cigarette or hitting a vape. Vaping combines nicotine with enticing flavours that appeal to teenagers and young adults, resulting in the vaping trend we see today.

These dangers are highly publicized and most vapers are aware of the risks; it is undeniable that young people are not intimidated by this hugely addictive vice.

“I typically vape when I go out to the bar or go to parties. I vape because it gives me a nice feeling and it’s a social thing,” said Student A, who is in first year.

Similar to smoking in generations before, vaping among young people can begin as a social habit. It’s fun, learning different tricks and tasting the variety of flavours is an activity in itself. Soon enough, it becomes a reason to hang out with peers. Going to the vape shop, asking each other about different brands and kinds of vapes has created a strong community among vapers. As social as vaping may be, it often doesn’t stop there.

“I started vaping because everyone around me was vaping, and I thought that it was fun. Slowly, it became more and more ingrained in my life,” said Student A.

From there it seems like a slippery slope. A recent vaper who quit reiterates that vaping became ingrained in her life, not just as a social habit but as an everyday occurrence.

“I loved trying new juices and experimenting with higher and higher nicotine and just kept going until eventually I was vaping 50 nic[otine] every minute of the day. I had my vape in class, I had it with me at family dinners, I needed it in order to drive, I even took it to my grandpa’s funeral and had to leave to hit it in the bathroom after the service,” said Student B.

Another student noted that they vape for no specific reason at all. Vape giants, like Juul or Vype, claim that vaping is intended to help smokers quit smoking. However, it is evident that many young people do it for a variety of reasons: for social clout, to experiment with new flavours or just for the fun of it.

“Everyone that was around me had them, it was one of those things, I wanted to fit in and try it. People get tired of you asking to hit theirs, so I just bought my own,” said Student C. “From there it only escalated, I started using them more and trying new ones [flavours], but still for no legitimate reason. It is kind of an entertainment thing too, people hang out and do tricks and show each other.”

The flavours, like cotton candy, pancakes and green apple, appeal to young people, despite vaping companies claiming otherwise. On top of the flavours, the novelty of vaping is enticing.

“I started putting so much money into my vape to get a light-up tank and a bigger mod,” said Student B. “Once I started putting money into it I felt like it became much more than just an addiction to nicotine but like an obsession with having the cooler vape and always having the newest and nicest parts.”

On the other end of the spectrum as to why young people are vaping, Student D said it helps ease their anxiety and became a habit once the stress levels of school increased.

“I bought it in the first place because this year started off really bad for me, it’s been a really bad year. I have been stressed about school and my roommates haven’t been very nice to me. So, mentally I haven’t been feeling the best. Whenever I was upset during the summertime my friends would let me hit their vape. I would get that nicotine rush and feel way better, so when [things started getting bad during the school year], I thought maybe I should buy one […] So I went in and I asked for the cheapest one,” said Student D.

What exactly is “the cheapest one”? Four Juul pods cost about $25 and can be purchased at just about any gas station or corner store. For comparison, a 20 pack of Marlboro cigarettes costs around $15. One Juul pod is expected to last 200 puffs and has the same nicotine content as 20 cigarettes. The one-time purchase of the Juul stick is around $45. Juul sells a variety of different pod flavours, ranging from 1.5 to 5 per cent nicotine content. Prices rise when users purchase vapes with big tanks and different modifications, some reaching over $200. This is of course if you are buying them in brand new condition at a legitimate Juul or vape dealer, however, getting black market vape products or getting vape products while underage is not hard.

“[A convenience store clerk] does ask for ID, but I know some convenience stores don’t really care. The convenience store is not going to ask for three pieces of ID, if they see your ID and think it’s reasonably real they aren’t going to question it,” said Student E.

Student A reiterates the same stance: that underage access is easy.

“I think it is very easy to access vape products underage because similar to alcohol you can simply get someone older to buy it for you. Especially in university when everyone knows someone that is of age, it is not difficult,” said another student.

In addition, as most Generation Z and millennials will know, Snapchat is often used to sell vapes. People will post closed stories only allowing some people to view it with the vape type and price that is up for sale. Snapchat is the perfect social platform to post videos of vape tricks and subtly advertise vaping as a social must-have. Aside from the unintentional advertising, Snapchat works well as a closed selling market. Unregulated Juuling and Vaping has created a lucrative black market for selling juices and devices.

“They are so easy to come across,” said Student B. “People will sell them on social media if someone buys a vape then wants to get a new one they will try and sell their old one [on social media]. Social media is such a big thing, you can get pretty much anything on social media at this point.”

There are young people that want to buy vapes and older users that are looking to sell theirs. It is not only convenient to purchase, but it’s also ridiculously easy to use on campus and just about anywhere else.

“It is so easy, you can vape in a car, you can vape before class, you can vape in a building, you can vape everywhere. Whereas cigarettes, you can’t smoke in a car without someone noticing, you can’t light a cigarette in the library. You can vape anywhere without leaving a trace, it doesn’t look like you’re smoking really,” said Student A.

Easy to purchase and use, vaping and Juuling created a perfect storm of accessibility, discreteness and addictiveness. Over the summer there was a spike in publicized vaping incidents, from unknown lung diseases to exploding vape pens to Juul’s CEO stepping down and apologizing for the Juuling epidemic, causing some vapers to question their habit.

Student A admitted she knows it is dangerous and that the risks are concerning.

“I think that vaping is worse than cigarettes, I think that it is very bad for you. There have been instances where people have vaped and then had lung issues and have coughed up blood. On Instagram and social media, you see a lot of posts warning about the dangers of vaping. I think it’s an epidemic … they’re the cigarettes of our generation,” said Student A.

Similarly, a vaper who had been attempting to quit took the publicized news stories to heart.

“I started hearing all the articles about the dangers of it and seeing all of these kids getting hospitalizing and it scared me so I quit that day and haven’t touched a vape since,” said Student B.

 

In contrast, another student noted that they were concerned about the effects of vaping, but decided to purchase one anyways.

 

“It was concerning at first before I purchased my vape, over the summer I was considering getting one but I kept reading all the stories online. When [anxiety] was getting bad during the school year, I just thought ‘screw it, I’ll do it’,” said Student D.

 

Despite the warnings on the packaging and the recent news stories illuminating the dangers of vaping, young adults are still taking the plunge and purchasing a vape of their own.

 

Whether vapers are concerned or not with the long and short term effects of vaping, some are already feeling the effects of their bad habit.

 

“Sometimes after I do it I have a sore throat or the next morning I will be coughing,” said one vaper.

 

“After a couple of months I noticed that my lungs were literally just covered in a thick oily layer of mucus from the vape juice to the point where it was harder to swallow and coughing was so uncomfortable,” said another, who has since quit.

 

There is no doubt that vaping on a grand scale is an epidemic and poses a huge health threat to young people. Recently, Vice covered the first and highly publicized lawsuit against Juul in the death of teenager, Daniel Wakefield, whose death was ruled a result of “breathing complications” in 2018.

 

Vaping can also deliver THC to the user. The Washington Post did a study featuring 1,604 patients and found that 860 of them have experienced vape-related illnesses. 85 per cent of the 860 used THC products. Only 10 per cent of those studied reported only using solely nicotine products. The risks of vaping outlined by the Government of Canada website include nicotine poisoning, popcorn lung and device malfunction. According to the Environmental Resource Council, 40 per cent of unregulated, illegal CBD cartridges contain dangerous chemicals. Some cartridges have been found to contain Fentanyl, an opioid that can easily induce an overdose. The business practice behind Juul also contributes to the shady reality of the vaping market. Recently, Siddharth Breja, the former finance executive at Juul who alleged that one million Juul pods were known to be contaminated and still shipped out to users. Juul claims the allegation is baseless, but still begs the question of what exactly is going on behind the scenes at vaping companies. Breja’s cry for reform is just one among the sea of criticisms against vaping companies. Whether vaping for a head rush or to get high, the risks are legitimate yet young people can’t seem to quit.

 

On a smaller scale, how is Brock responding to the vaping? Leigh Harold, the Director of Health, Safety & Wellness, authored Brock’s Smoking & Vaping Policy.

 

“We want to promote an environment that is healthy for all of our campus community to enjoy, and so by creating the policies that we have I think we have been successful in promoting a healthy lifestyle […] We are always exploring a smoke-free campus, I mean we have drastically reduced the number of DSA (Designated Smoking Areas) now, so as of May 1, 2019 we introduced the smoke-free corridor, which reduced our number of DSAs to six,” said Harold.

 

As many vapers know it is incredibly discreet, so are DSAs effective?

 

“We enforce it (DSAs) from an educational standpoint, we obviously don’t want to come in with a heavy hand and be punitive. We really want to go out and educate people on campus, we have signage now throughout campus. We have removed the DSAs that fell within the smoke-free corridor so that people understand this is our policy on campus,” said Harold.

 

Education is the tactic Brock is using to combat vaping on campus and students are noticing.

 

“I sit outside and do homework and see all the signage saying that certain areas are no longer Designated Smoke Areas, so I think Brock is very aware of vaping,” said Student D.

 

Brock and other universities, are playing a small part in combating the vaping epidemic facing young people. Small steps in the right direction cannot be overlooked, but the end of vaping is far off into the future.

 

A non-vaper, who used to heavily vape gave advice to young people interested in vaping.

 

“It seems cool and that “buzz” you feel at the beginning might be nice but as time goes on you will come to realize it’s all just so not worth it. Once you see that these vape companies are not looking out for their consumers they only want money you will start to see how much of a messed up scam vaping really is. They definitely don’t do what they are meant to do [help people quit cigarettes]. They just become the new unhealthy addiction to take the place of that cigarette.”

 

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