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.