It’s official: The Word of the Year is “Vape.”
Smoking an electronic cigarette is almost as new as its recognition by the Oxford English Dictionary and the effects of this new form of inhaling nicotine are only beginning to sink in.
Trinity University held its first Great American Vapeout campaign Wednesday night to coincide with the Great American Smokeout event sponsored by Trinity’s Health Services and precede the national American Cancer Society’s Smokeout campaign – a day focused on informing people about the dangers of cigarette smoking.
E-cigarettes are promoted as smoking cessation aids and are currently considered a safer alternative to cigarettes, but some research shows they are not without their own set of health risks.
Trinity University Biology Professor Robert Blystone, with the help of 16 students enrolled in his first-year seminar course, “Knowing and Persuading,” handed out pamphlets the students had designed in class detailing the dangers of e-cigarettes and the vapor they produce to students at Mabee Dining Hall.
The “Knowing and Persuading” seminar is part of Trinity’s Bridge program for first-generation college students, who are also part of the University’s First-Generation, Under-represented Students program.
Since Hon Lik invented the first battery-powered e-cigarette in 2004, more than 1,000 companies have produced their version of e-cigarettes, including the major multinational tobacco companies. The devices are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration except for therapeutic purposes, which means they cannot be marketed as a quit-smoking aid.
Though they are marketed as a safer alternative to smoking, e-cigarettes use a vaporizer to heat up a liquid mixture usually containing nicotine. They produce a mist rather than smoke. The mist, or vapor, also contains propylene glycol, used in asthma inhalers and classified as “safe,” and vegetable glycerol, along with various flavors to create distinctive tastes.
Some youth are going straight to e-cigarettes. A journal article published in the Contemporary Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine found that although dual use with cigarettes is high, some youth experimenting with e-cigarettes have never tried a tobacco cigarette.
In 2012, 20.3% of middle school and 7.2% of high school e-cigarette users reported never smoking conventional cigarettes, according to CDC data in the article.
“E-cigarettes represent the lesser of two evils,” Blystone said. “In this class, the knowing and persuading theme focuses on the standard of care. The standard of care is evolving.
“Should (doctors) continue to give niacin to control HDL cholesterol? We’ve seen changing regulations in who should have mammograms. It used to be women were supposed to have a mammogram at age 40, but now they’re saying they don’t need one until they’re 50.”
The class project is also designed to teach students about regulation. It would be fairly easy to start an e-cigarettes company today, even with a number of professional organizations, medical journals, and print publications weighing in on e-cigarettes and the FDA outlining a proposal in May to regulate electronic cigarettes and vaporizers made after 2007.
If the FDA’s rule is adopted as proposed, the deeming rule would extend the agency’s regulatory authority over a variety of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and hookah tobacco. These products would be subject to the federal prohibition on sales to minors, the federal prohibition on free sampling, federal warning label requirements, and the requirement that tobacco manufacturers register with the FDA and seek the agency’s review of new tobacco products.
Blystone said the class conducted its own research into e-cigarettes and created the pamphlet to include information about how there is no regulation and a lack of product labeling, no purity control of vaping elements, and inconclusive research into any benefits of e-cigarettes compared to traditional cigarettes.
Laurel Meister, a Trinity University English major and one of the peer tutors in the project, said the students examined how visuals can make an impact on public campaigns and perceptions of issues, mentioning Rosie the Riveter as a powerful cultural icon during World War II.
“Rather than accusing people of smoking and telling them about all the dangers, we focused on using friendlier language and positive images, encouraging them to enjoy the fresh air at the beach,” she said.
At the informational booth, for example, student volunteers handed out packs of seashells and sand along with the pamphlets that students could take with them as they ate dinner in the hall.
Cigarette smoking and vaping are both permitted on the Trinity University campus, although there is talk of making it a smoke-free area.
“Smoking is a cultural thing – people smoke a lot less here than there,” said Catalina Andazola, a first-year student, referring to her home in Mexico. “It’s good that they’re here to let students know what e-cigarettes have in them and what they do.”
Other students said the Vapeout was a good way to highlight the possibility of unknown chemicals in e-cigarettes, though the focus of the event remained on establishing a standard of care to move the campaign and growing health concerns in the right direction.
Nurses from the University’s Health Services were on hand to answer students’ questions and offer them positive messages about quitting smoking, offering quit kits and suggesting habit substitutes for cigarettes, such as brushing teeth or chewing gum.
*Featured/top image: Devin Keo vapes at Bar America while watching the San Antonio Spurs win Game 4 of the 2014 NBA Finals. He went from smoking two to three packs of cigarettes a day to only four per week in addition to his vaporizer. Photo by Iris Dimmick.