Vaping and e-cigarette devices have been exploding in popularity recently, and there are few demographics that have been affected as heavily as college undergraduates. Originally intended as an aid for those who want to quit cigarettes, vaping has exploded into a national phenomenon and has been taken up by both ex-cigarette users as well as nicotine newcomers alike. Although not all vape products contain nicotine, the vast majority do; exposing a new generation of young adults to the addictive substance.
“Any kind of dependency is something that I worry about, and nicotine is an incredibly addictive substance,” says Dr. Nichole Champagne, chair of UMass Lowell’s public health department.
Champagne said she is concerned with the physical results that long-term vaping can inflict on impressionable, young users. Because the devices in question are still relatively new to the market, Champagne says that the science regarding long term vape use is still incomplete.
“I think we’ll learn a lot more, not unlike what happened with tobacco 50 plus years ago,” Champagne said.
The truth about how devastating tobacco is for health took a while to develop, and Champagne sees parallels between that and the current explosion of vape products today, including at UMass Lowell.
Business major Samuel Orchard says he “definitely noticed vaping, and especially Juul or Juul-like products, take off here on campus.”
Self-described as an “on-and-off vape user,” Orchard says many of his vaping peers who took up the habit weren’t smoking cigarettes previously. “If they’re like me, they exposed themselves to nicotine out of curiosity, ignorance, or sometimes peer pressure and form hard to break habits because of it,” he said.
With a growing number of students getting involved in this new and potentially addictive hobby, colleges nationwide have been implementing policies to accommodate for this change, including at UMass Lowell, according to Joylyn Norris, an office assistant at Fox Hall. She’s also a vape user. Norris said working within the Office of Residence Life has helped illuminate some of the newly mandated policies UMass Lowell has put in place regarding vaping.
According to ResLife policy, the use of vapes is prohibited in school dorms, although owning a vape and storing it in your room is fine, she said. This is to prevent students from unintentionally setting off their fire alarms by vaping indoors. Those who ignore these policies risk confiscation of their device; however, following through with these rules proves to be difficult, she said.
“The policy of being a smoke free campus, as far as I have noticed, is not always enforced,” says Norris. “Since this policy is so new, it has been hard to implement.”
John Feely, a college sophomore and heavy vape user, says he is “one of the few people” he knows who has gotten their vape confiscated.
For Feely, the spring afternoon started like any other. Just getting out of class, the then freshman sat in his dorm room and began his homework, periodically pausing to use his Smok V8 vape pen.
Deeply engrossed in his studies, Feely did not bother looking behind him. If he had, he would have noticed his cramped dorm room, with no open windows or fans, was completely filled with the fruit-scented vapor. In a matter of time, the fire alarm sounded, and his vape fell into the hands of his residential advisor.
Feely is the exception, however. For many students, like college junior Steven Giammichele, vaping in dorms has not been a problem.
“My roommate was fine with it,” he says. “He actually likes the smell.”
Giammichele says vaping helps him release the stress induced by his heavy workload as a mechanical engineering major. He said that he “probably shouldn’t” vape in his dorm, but Giammichele says he takes precautionary measure to make sure his fire alarm is not set off.
“I always had a fan going and blew it right out the window,” says Giammichele. “It really takes a lot to fill the room and get it to go off.”
Although he has vaped in his dorm, Giammichele abstains from vaping in any other indoor UML facility.
“It’s a respect thing, and those who vape inside make the rest of us look bad,” he said.
If someone was to vape in O’Leary library for instance, a careless cloud could trigger a sprinkler to go off. The water from that sprinkler could then destroy the electronics and school materials of everyone else in the building, he said.
Giammichele says that the only thing more annoying than seeing students vape indoors, is coming across empty JUUL pods that litter the campus and parking lots of UML. Unlike standard “box mod” vapes, which requires the user to manually fill e-liquid into the device, products like JUUL instead use what is known as a “pod,” or a single-use, pre-filled cartridge that is discarded once emptied.
These pods can be found scattered across campus and do not degrade quickly over time. Because of this, many are concerned with the environmental consequences trends such as “Juuling” could lead to. Some also argue that the vapor itself produced from such devices pollutes the air, and may even contribute to global warming, although more research on the subject is needed to make a conclusive decision.
Although the science of vaping’s consequences is still a bit “cloudy,” one thing is certain; vaping has become a staple of college social culture, and it is not planning on leaving anytime soon.