By Heather Chase

E-cigarette use, known as vaping, is popular among high school and college students. E-cigarette stands for electronic cigarette, which include “e-hookahs,” “vape pens,” “mods,” “tank systems,” and “ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems)”.  

E-cigs are the most commonly used tobacco product among youth.  Media advertising glamorizes and down plays the risk of e-cigs. The variety of flavors offered in e-cigs, like bubble gum, Belgian waffle, and strawberry daiquiri are what encourage many youths to try them.  

The risk and danger of e-cigs are from nicotine and the unknown harm from e-cig vapors, flavorants and other toxicants. Many students are not familiar with the health risks associated with vaping. Unfortunately, youth view these tobacco products as a safe alternative to cigarettes.

When using an e-cig, a battery inside powers an atomizer that vaporizes a liquid for the user to inhale. This liquid is made up of “a solution of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavors and nicotine or hash oils” (Chen, 2017).  This inhaled vapor is actually an aerosol. The aerosol is not just water vapor; it contains nicotine as well as other chemicals and heavy metals. These metals can break off when heated and enter the lungs.  Additionally, propylene glycol can release formaldehyde agents, known to increase cancer risk.  The chemical additive, diacetyl, found in e-cig flavorants can lead to serious lung disease.  Bystanders can also breathe in this aerosol when the user exhales into the air, experiencing the same ill effects.

Nicotine is highly addictive, similar to heroin.  Nicotine causes a brief euphoria when inhaled due to a transient surge of endorphins in the reward circuits of the brain.  Similar to other drugs of abuse in which levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine are increased, this surge reinforces the urge for the drug.  Long-term use of nicotine causes brain changes induced by continued nicotine exposure and results in addiction.  This addiction produces dependence on, tolerance to and withdrawal from nicotine, making it difficult for one to quit.

Teenagers and young adults, addicted to nicotine through vaping, are at risk of eventually switching to smoking cigarettes to get a higher dose of nicotine.  Some people argue that using e-cigarettes can help people quit tobacco, however, there is no direct scientific proof of this. There are U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved cessation medications, which can be safely used instead of vaping.

Other health risks associated with nicotine can lead to cardiovascular illness, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate.  Nicotine exposure can harm the adolescent brain, which is developing until young adulthood (Chen, 2017). The Surgeon General Report on e-cigs stated: “The effects include addiction, priming for use of other addictive substances, reduced impulse control, deficits in attention and cognition, and mood disorders,” (2016).

The State of Maine has regulations governing tobacco products in which “vaping is banned in all smoke-free areas, child-proof packaging is required, and there is no sale to minors” (Mechling, 2016). The University of Southern Maine (USM) reinforces these regulations with its Tobacco Free Campus policies. USM is a tobacco and vapor-free campus, which prohibits the use of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vape pens and hookah pens. This prohibition extends to the entire campus, including the parking lots, cars, and the exterior of buildings.

To help educate the campus community on the risks of smoking and vaping, and to provide tips on cessation, The Well at USM held a Kick Butts Day event in March on the Gorham and Portland campuses. If you missed this informative event, and would like more information, or support for tobacco cessation call University Health and Counseling at 207-780-5411.


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