October 18, 2015

Students Vape in Face of Uncertain Health Effects

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Despite the unknown side effects of electronic cigarette usage on one’s health, many Cornell students report the use of personal vaporizers — a particular type of e-cigarette — as both a positive way to curb nicotine addictions and as a fun social activity.

The Food and Drug Administration defines e-cigarettes as “battery-operated products designed to deliver nicotine, flavor and other chemicals.”


Students sit on steps by Olin Library, talking to each other and smoking cigarettes. The areas near the entrances to Olin and Uris Libraries are popular smoking haunts. (Cameron Pollack / Sun Senior Photographer)

Vaporizers, or vapes, work by heating e-cigarette liquid, consisting of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine and food grade flavors into an aerosol that the user inhales, according to Spencer Re ’18. E-cigarette liquid or e-juice usually comes in units of zero, three, six, 12, 24 and 32 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter.

For those using vapes as a smoking-cessation device, the various e-juices help regulate one’s intake of nicotine and the different flavors ranging from “cotton candy” to “crunchy peanut butter” satisfy one’s sweet-tooth, according to Maëlle Piepenburg ’18.

As someone who recently made the switch from chain smoker to “cloud-chaser,” Piepenburg said she is happier and healthier now.

“Vaping, quite simply, satisfies your nicotine craving without any of the horrible side effects experienced while trying to quit cold turkey,” Piepenburg said. “It’s kind of fun, really cool and super cheap, especially if you’re a pack-a-day smoker in a state like New York.”

Although many users originally began using e-cigarettes as a way to help quit smoking, other users report e-cigarette use for recreational purposes.

“Doing smoke tricks with friends without the added risk of addiction is a cool bonding experience,” Ayinde Crear ’18 said.

According to Crear, people who use e-cigarettes for fun usually choose e-juices with very little to zero milligrams of nicotine.

Anya Skor ’18 said the variety of flavors, lack of tobacco and convenience of e-cigarettes makes them more appealing.

“I think e-cigs are generally regarded as the healthier option when compared to regular cigarettes,” Skor said.

While numerous Cornell students regarded e-cigarette usage as a healthy alternative to smoking, research on e-cigarette use has remained inconclusive on possible negative health impacts.

Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations for Gannett Health Services, said that while e-cigarette aerosol may contain fewer toxicants than cigarette smoke, studies evaluating the harmfulness of e-cigarettes remain inconclusive.

“For now, we urge students to avoid or at least to consider very carefully their use of a potentially addictive product whose impact on their current and long-term health cannot be known,” Dittman said.

In addition, the University provides FDA-approved smoking cessation medications, conventional counseling strategies and telephone quitlines to help students quit smoking every year, according to Dr. Kent Bullis, director of medical services at Gannett.

“No e-cigarette has been approved by FDA as a cessation aid, so we cannot at this time recommend them for this purpose,” Bullis said.

  • charlie

    Cigarettes cost me $240 a month, $3,000 a year. E liquid mixed at home costs $3.60 a month, $45 a year. Mixing a month supply takes 30 minutes. This is what the government hates about ecigs. Their tobacco drug is obsolete. They are addicted to easy money and care nothing about the health of smokers. One of the pleasures of switching to ecigs a year ago was denying the government all that money.

  • skeptic

    E-cigs should be taxed heavily (at $2955 per year?), with the money going directly to a national healthcare fund to offset the future cost of ecig related diseases – so non-vapers don’t ultimately subsidize the cost of vapers.

  • skeptic

    “The makers of e-cigarettes say that they are safe, but this only means the ingredients have been found to be safe to eat. Inhaling a substance is not the same as swallowing it. There are questions about how safe it is to inhale some substances in the e-cigarette vapor into the lungs. Since e-cigarettes are not labeled with their ingredients, the user doesn’t know what’s in them. The amounts of nicotine and other substances a person gets from each cartridge are also unclear.

    A study done by the FDA found cancer-causing substances in half the e-cigarette samples tested. Other impurities were also found, including one sample with diethylene glycol, a toxic ingredient found in antifreeze.”

    • The study you refer to has long ago been debunked but somehow keeps showing up in the media.
      Go to for the real studies that HAVE been done that are NOT repeated in media.

  • skeptic

    CASAA is the e-cig lobbying association. The following quotes are borrowed from the American Lung Association website, where supporting documentation can be found.

    “…in initial lab tests conducted in 2009, the FDA found detectable levels of toxic cancer-causing chemicals—including an ingredient used in antifreeze—in two leading brands of e-cigarettes and 18 various cartridges. A review of studies found that levels of toxins in e-cigarette aerosol varied considerably within and between brands. A 2014 study found that aerosol from e-cigarettes with a higher voltage level contains more formaldehyde, another carcinogen with the potential to cause cancer.”

    “Flavors in e-cigarettes also cause concern. Not only are flavors used to target kids, but they may be harmful on their own. E-cigarette and flavor manufacturers and marketers may suggest that the flavor ingredients used in e-cigarettes are safe because they have FEMA GRAS™ status for use in food, but such statements are false and misleading. The reality is that FEMA GRAS™ status does not apply to inhaled substances; it only applies to food, meaning that substances with FEMA GRAS™ status are safe to eat, but perhaps not to inhale.”

    “Nicotine is not safe. The U.S. Surgeon General has found exposure to nicotine during pregnancy harms the developing fetus, and causes lasting consequences for developing brain and lung function in newborns. Nicotine exposure also affects maternal and fetal health during pregnancy, and can result in low birth weights, preterm delivery and stillbirth.”

    “Nicotine also negatively impacts adolescent brain development. Human brain development continues far longer than was previously realized, and nicotine use during adolescence and young adulthood has been associated with lasting cognitive and behavioral impairments, including effects on working memory and attention.”

    “While e-cigarettes do not produce smoke, they do expose others to secondhand emissions. Little is known about these emissions or the potential harm they may cause. Two initial studies have found formaldehyde, benzene and tobacco-specific nitrosamines (all carcinogens) coming from those secondhand emissions. Other studies have shown that chemicals exhaled by users also contain formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and other potential toxins. There is no evidence that shows e-cigarettes emissions (secondhand aerosol) are safe for non-users to inhale.”

  • There was a loot of studies made about this topic and I think that government will never agree with any laws against cigarettes because of how much profit government makes from Cigarretes or how much Malboro can pay for them etc. Good article

  • Many of my friends successfully quit with ecigs and don’t even use ecigs anymore. I think a big problem might be if ex-smokers continue to smoke ecigarettes without even lowering the nicotine level or overdue it & get addicted to the ejuices.
    Right now many people vape, because it is cool. I hope the long-term side effects are not going to be as harsh as cigs.

    • I definitely think vaping is a great tool to use for quitting smoking but I wouldn’t go so far as to promote it as a safer alternative… just because we don’t really know what it might be doing to your body. People used to think smoking was safe too.