Vaping brings a cloud of concerns to campus

Raga Justin

When philosophy junior Alayna Kingston was 15, she smoked her first cigarette, a Kamel Red. She was soon hooked, and that one cigarette spiraled into a two-pack-a-day habit. 

Last fall, she decided to turn to vaping to help kick her smoking addiction. 

“Vaping works great to calm me down,” Kingston said. “But nicotine addiction is still a problem — (vaping is) just like any other drug.”

While electronic nicotine delivery systems such as e-cigarettes and Juuls were originally intended to help wean heavy smokers like Kingston off cigarettes, young adults have increasingly taken to vaping recreationally.

A National Academy of Medicine study earlier this year found that vaping rates were “substantially higher” than traditional cigarette use among young adults, as well as a definite link between e-cigarette use and addiction. Vaping continues to be on the rise on campus, according to University experts.

UT’s Tobacco-Free Campus policy prohibits all forms of vaping with any device, said Osalunosse Ovienmhada, Tobacco-Free Campus coordinator. Although enforcing the policy is supposed to be a community effort, students are often referred to the dean of students by campus administrators for vaping in public places, she said. 

“It’s the job of the campus community to actively try to educate those around them,” Ovienmhada said. “We’re not here to be slapping people on the wrist, because we have the understanding that it’s an addiction.”

Health education professor Alexandra Loukas, who studies alternative tobacco products, said potential health risks are a big part of emerging research on vaping, although there is no definitive answer yet. Regulation on any of these products is still nonexistent as well, Loukas said.

“I just think people should be concerned about what they’re putting in their body,” Loukas said. “It seems to me that a lot of college kids are concerned about being physically active or eating properly, and yet they’re vaping something they don’t even know (about).” 

Blake Bartlett, a radio-television-film freshman, said he got hooked on vaping in high school and carries his Juul with him around campus. Bartlett said he often vapes while walking in between classes or listening to a lecture. 

“It’s not like, ‘Oh, look at me, I vape, I’m cool,’”  Bartlett said. “It makes me laugh and simultaneously want to vomit when people talk about how much they vape. It’s more of, like, a relaxing thing I do throughout the day.”

Many e-cigarette and vape stores are sprinkled near campus. One of them is ATX1 Smoke and Vapor on Guadalupe Street, where glass hookahs line the shelves and cabinets display hundreds of colorful e-cigs, Juuls and bongs of all sizes. 

The owner, Tony Dadra, says around 70 to 80 percent of his customers are UT students and the rest are typically under the age of 25. 

“We get a lot of traffic,” Dadra said. “Younger kids who are health-conscious like this stuff.”

Bartlett said he wasn’t overly concerned with potential health risks, although he said he knew there were probably some waiting to be identified. It could always be worse, he said. 

“I’d much rather see a bunch of Juuls around than a bunch of cigarette packs,” Bartlett said. “I feel like the fantasy behind smoking is always going to be a thing, but if we can just make it healthier, then we should be fine.”