Walking around UW-Madison, it may not be as likely as it once was for the metallic scent of cigarettes to waft through the air. Vapes — an electronic, handheld device used to smoke tobacco — and their thinner, multi-scented streams are rising in popularity among college-aged people, including many in Madison.
UW-Madison’s Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention noted that although tobacco companies initially created vaporizing devices to substitute cigarette addiction, the nicotine products have turned the process upside down.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaping is now a recreational activity that has become increasingly more prominent among teenagers and ultimately college students as a way to obtain a brief buzz, similar to the nicotine “high” that cigarettes offer.
“The difference between vapes and cigarettes is that vaporizers have an assortment of flavors,” Dr. Doug Jorenby, the director of clinical services at the CTRI, said. “Taste preference is attractive among college students, which has led to the increase in college-age usage.”
Vaporizers have been found to be a gateway to cigarette smoking. The Burden of Tobacco in Wisconsin Organization found that the rate of college students smoking cigarettes is about 13.1 percent in Wisconsin alone, which is likely to increase due to the popularization of nicotine highs.
The CDC reported that 7.1 percent of college-aged individuals used vapes in 2015 — this number rose to roughly 16 percent in 2016. Additionally, 2016 records show 3.1 percent of the Wisconsin adult population vapes.
Jorenby also said the booming vape trend can be attributed to the fact that they are powered by electric heat, not the fire that lights cigarettes; that heat causes sore throats.
An employee of Knuckleheads Tobacco and Vape Club vouched for the increase of vaping especially among college students.
“We make most of our business off of college students,” the employee said. “Vapes are easy to obtain and you can take them anywhere.”
The Knuckleheads employee said most of the products being purchased are Juuls, a vaporizer containing 5 percent nicotine, and nicotine juice for bigger handheld vapes, called mods.
Although vapes are most popular among young adults, Jorenby said the majority of vaporizer users were originally adults attempting to quit their hazardous nicotine addiction. He said the introduction of vaporizers has not decreased cigarette smoking, but encouraged the participation of dual usage.
Dual usage is a combination of cigarette smoking and vaporizing, which still has negative health effects. Adults cannot simply quit their cigarette smoking and replace it completely with vaporizers.
“Vaping is not the same thing, the buzz is not the same … it’s not a complete substitute,” Jorenby said.
This increase can be associated with how vape and tobacco stores advertise their products. Public Health of Madison and Dane County found that 35 percent of retailers in Dane County do not place their products behind the counter. Easy access to vape products allows consumers to compare and even test out what they may or may not intend on buying.
Many of the employees in Madison vape stores are seen vaping at work to promote usage. They practice smoke tricks and sometimes offer consumers a taste of the product.
Sixty-two percent of 145 responders admitted they partake in vaping in an informal online survey conducted by The Daily Cardinal. Responders were asked to answer questions about the prevalence of vaping among UW-Madison college students. The majority of the students who vape claimed the predominant reasons for why they do so are either because they enjoy the buzz or because it’s a way to be social with others.
The survey found the activity is less about peer pressure and more about personal satisfaction. Alcohol consumption took the lead as a primary factor that responders said made it easier to give into peer pressure.
When responders were asked about the reasons they thought people vape, several chose the option “it makes them look cool” or “vapes are less harmful than cigarettes and marijuana.”
Most responders who vape admitted to participating even though they were aware of the negative and addictive effects. The study showed students care less about the effects and more about their external image and short-term benefits, even if it entails a high-risk consequence.
Ryan Sheahan, the program coordinator for Public Health Madison and Dane County, emphasized the risks that vaping entails. He explained that vapes contain several cancer-causing chemicals like formaldehyde and diethyl, which is notorious for making people short of breath. He rejected rumors of vaporizing being safer than cigarettes.
“Safer does not equal safe,” Sheahan said. “College students’ brains are still developing and there is significant evidence to support the negative consequences nicotine has on the growing brain.”