Electronic cigarette usage on campus at an all-time high
The Santa Clara
April 5, 2018
Becca doesn’t consider herself a smoker. The 20-year-old sophomore, who preferred to be identified by only her first name, has never taken a drag on a cigarette, and doesn’t have the desire to do so.
However, Becca smokes the equivalent of one pack of cigarettes per day.
Four months ago, on a cold, November afternoon, Becca was walking around San Francisco with some friends. She told them that she was feeling tired, but didn’t want to drink coffee so late in the day.
One friend pulled out his “Juul,” a small, electronic cigarette about the size and shape of a pencil lead cartridge.
“Here, hit this,” her friend said. “It’ll make you feel better.”
Not knowing anything about electronic cigarettes, or Juuls for that matter, Becca put the tiny, discrete contraption to her lips for the first time, took a deep breath in, and blew out a huge cloud of melon-flavored smoke.
In June of 2016, California passed a bill raising the age of tobacco purchase from 18 to 21. California is the second state after Hawaii to raise its legal tobacco purchase age. Despite such laws, teenagers throughout America are able to obtain nicotine products.
In a report titled “E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults,” United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy pointed out that e-cigarette use among U.S. youth is now a major public health concern.
“E-cigarette use has increased considerably in recent years, growing an astounding 900 percent among high school students from 2011 to 2015,” Murthy said.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), as of Feb. 2018, e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco products among youth in the United States.
In a 2016 study, the CDC found that 11.3 percent of high school students and 4.3 percent of middle school students reported using e-cigs in the past 30 days.
The same study found that among e-cig smokers aged 18-24, 40 percent had never been regular cigarette smokers.
“It made me feel really weak and dizzy, but I still kept hitting it for some reason,” Becca said in reference to her first time smoking an e-cig.
Four months since her first hit, she smokes one “Juul pod” per day—the equivalent of one pack of cigarettes.
Each Juul pod contains 0.7 milliliters of liquid with 5 percent nicotine. The pods come in a pack of four, with flavors ranging from Creme Brulee to Mango to special edition flavors like Virginia Tobacco.
Becca prefers Cool Mint over the other flavors, and despite not being 21 years old, buys her packs from a smoke shop for $26 each.
“I’ve never gotten carded,” Becca said. “I don’t know what I’d do if they asked me for an I.D. since I’m not 21, but it’s never been an issue.”
For some people, the countrywide addiction to e-cigs has been extremely profitable. Joseph, a pseudonym for a 20-year-old Santa Clara sophomore, saw a business opportunity in Juul addictions.
“Most smoke shops in the area sell a pack of four pods for $26, but on the Juul website, packs are sold for $16, with a 15 percent discount for subscribers,” Joseph said. “I buy 15 packs at a time and sell them to friends and classmates for $24 per pack or $6 per pod. I sell out of each shipment in two weeks, tops, and make an easy $135 each time.”
Go to any party around the Santa Clara campus and you’ll see people blowing puffs of smoke into the air, and passing a little hand-held device around to friends.
Besides the health issues that come along with putting one’s mouth where a stranger’s has just been, ecig smoking is more harmful than many users understand. Although e-cigs were originally marketed as a safe alternative to cigarettes, recent studies have shown that their health effects can potentially be just as bad.
The issue, however, is that ecigs are such a new product, that scientists have not had ample time to study the long-term effects that chronic usage causes.
“Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which can cause addiction and can harm the developing adolescent brain,” Dr. Murthy said in the report. “Gaps in scientific evidence do exist, and this report is being issued while these products and their patterns of use continue to change quickly. For example, the health effects and potentially harmful doses of heated and aerosolized constituents of e-cigarette liquids—including solvents, flavorants, and toxicants—are not completely understood.”
Santa Clara is a smoke-free and tobacco-free campus.
According to the university Student Handbook, the term “smoking” means “inhaling, exhaling, burning, or carrying of any lighted or heated tobacco product, as well as smoking substances other than tobacco, or operating electronic smoking devices and other smoking instruments.”
“We’re a non-smoking campus,” Philip Beltran said, Director of Campus Safety. “We’re not the smoking police. You cannot smoke here, but when we see it, we ask people to please take their legal smoking to the edge of campus. Campus property, specifically, is prohibited from smoking.”
Although the university has its own set of rules regarding smoking of any kind on campus, students and faculty have to adhere to California state laws as well.
The newly-passed tobacco purchase bill only applies to the actual purchase of tobacco products.
Because of this, it is technically legal for minors to be in possession of and use smoking devices, like ecigs.
“No one regardless of age is allowed to smoke or use any kind of tobacco/smoke product on campus,” Kevin Speer said, Resident Director of Swig Residence Hall. “Based off the smoke-free policy in the Handbook students are allowed to possess tobacco products/Juuls/e-cigs, etc., as long as it is not against the law.”
In regards to e-cig usage in university residence halls, Swig Community Facilitator Kimberly Dong deals with them on a daily basis.
“I see them fairly often, probably once a day,” Dong said. “I would say that when dealing with Juuls and other smoking devices, it’s more of a matter of ‘you can’t do that here,’ as opposed to alcohol and marijuana, which are both illegal for residents to have. For the most part, residents just need a gentle reminder that Juuls can’t be used in the building.”
In general, electronic-cigarette usage is not a matter taken as seriously as alcohol or marijuana, since California laws for e-cigs are not as strict.
“Generally, I don’t think a first time use on campus would result in probation, but there might be other circumstances that could result in that,” Speer said. “For example, a student smoking in the residence hall and covering their smoke detector would be two policy violations and is a huge fire safety concern.”
Becca carries her Juul around with her wherever she goes, and frequently leaves class and work to smoke it in the bathroom.
She has even tried to stop smoking, but experienced withdrawal symptoms.
“I tried to stop but I couldn’t,” Becca said. “I told myself that I’d stop for two weeks at first, but by the third day, I needed it. It was really weird because it was the same exact feeling you’d get if a smoker tried to quit, very anxious, and couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was really scary. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m actually addicted.’”
Contact Kimi Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.