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CARBONDALE — It turns out that what you don’t know about vaping can hurt you. That’s the conclusion health officials at Southern Illinois University Carbondale reached after conducting a student survey.

And, because of the survey, they’ve launched an informational campaign to get the truth out and hopefully bring about healthier student choices.

During the 2018-2019 school year, an online vaping survey was sent to all SIU students. More than 1,900 responded to the initial three questions. Brianna Sinche, wellness coordinator for SIU’s Student Health Services – Wellness and Health Promotion Services, and Kyle Miller, a graduate assistant from Clinton who works in the office, conducted the survey.

“The number of students that responded to the surveys was a pleasant surprise for us,” Miller said. He earned his undergraduate degree at SIU and completed his master’s degree, both in social work, in May, and is beginning his doctoral program in health education this summer.

Sinche and Miller analyzed the responses and found that the majority of the students were uninformed about vaping statistics and effects. The survey revealed that about 28 percent of the participants indicated they currently vape and the majority of those answering the questions either said it is permissible or were unsure if vaping is allowed on campus.

Actually, vaping is prohibited under the campus smoke-free policy implemented in 2015; those who vape are less likely to believe that’s the case.

In addition, she said that while overall 75 percent of the respondents agree vaping has the potential to have negative health consequences, just 57.2 percent of those who partake believe that.

Subsequently, students who indicated that they currently vape were asked to complete another online 20-question follow-up survey, and 361 did so.

About half reported that they have vaped for a year or less with 61.2 percent vaping multiple times each day. Many are unsure of how much nicotine is in their e-juice, although nearly 70 percent believe it to be six milligrams or less.

Why they vape

One of the surprise findings for Sinche was that the students aren’t vaping as a way to transition away from or quit smoking.

“The majority (63.9 percent) did not start vaping to help quit smoking traditional cigarettes,” Sinche said. In fact, Sinche said that research in recent years has found that young people who begin vaping are more likely to end up using traditional tobacco products than their counterparts are.

Most students say they use vape-mod pens or Juul and they purchase their supplies at a vape store or gas station.

“The taste and the nicotine buzz they get were cited as the most common reasons students vape,” Sinche said.

And, while the majority believe vaping could be detrimental to their health, the more recently they took up the habit, the more likely they were to give credence to those consequences. Nearly 68 percent of those who recently started vaping admit possible adverse health risks, while just over 51 percent of those who have been vaping for a longer period see the risks.

Effects of vaping

The same adverse cardiovascular effects that result from smoking tobacco products hold true from the intake of nicotine through vaping, she notes. That very popular little Juul device that looks like a USB drive produces about 200 puffs, equal to about the nicotine in one package of cigarettes, Sinche said.

“Nicotine is very addictive. It increases the dopamine in your brain so you get that ‘high,’” she added. “It primes the brain’s reward system and sets you at risk.”

Sinche noted that vaping also affects brain development in adolescents and young adults.

“Nicotine affects the pre-frontal cortex development,” she said. “That’s the area of the brain where attention, learning, impulse control and mood are handled. Nicotine affects synapse formation and cognitive function. The brains of college students are still developing.”

And that’s not all. While the flavorings and additives in e-juice are approved by the FDA for ingestion, they are not approved or regulated for inhaling and the vaping conversion process chemically changes the substance, according to Sinche.

“Vaping often includes heavy metals and other carcinogens,” she added.

Who it affects

One other surprising entrenched falsehood came to light through the surveys.

“I was surprised that students recognized the potential for negative health consequences to themselves, but did not see second-hand vape exposure as a potential harm,” Miller said.

Just 20.8 percent of the respondents believe that the vapor exhaled has the potential to have harmful effects on others around them, according to Sinche.

“The truth is, that water vapor contains a lot of stuff,” Sinche said. “The tiny particulate matter can penetrate deep into the lungs of the user and linger in the air after you leave a room. Nicotine can linger on surfaces for a long time so there isn’t just the potential for second-hand contamination, but also for third-hand contamination of people who touch those surfaces afterward.”

Following national trends

What’s happening at SIU is no different than what’s trending across the country, Sinche said. Around 2014, vaping “really became mainstream,” with usage rates and retail sales jumping significantly over the previous year.

The 2018 Youth Tobacco Survey revealed a 78 percent increase in e-cigarette usage by high school students between 2017 and 2018 and the National College Health Assessment found that in 2017 just eight percent of college students had vaped within the past 30 days. By 2018, about 13 percent had.

Facing facts

After reviewing the SIU student surveys, Sinche and Miller went to work, creating a plan to spread the truth about vaping.

“I know a lot of people that vape, and I myself used to vape,” Miller said. “Getting this data was the first step for the development of health promotion materials to assist students in making healthier choices.”

The “Clearing the Clouds” campaign focuses on educating students about SIU’s smoke-free policy and the first- and second-hand effects of vaping, as well as the nicotine content in e-juice and its effects. The campaign also seeks to provide students with the knowledge and motivation they need to help them refuse or quit vaping, Sinche said.

Cost and the way some people and places treat vaping just like smoking cigarettes were the biggest reasons cited for quitting by those taking the survey. The campaign notes these reasons, but also encourages people to think of the health consequences, legal restrictions and the environmental impact of vaping.

“We want to encourage students to think about their behavior and the potential consequences,” Sinche said.

They’ve created posters to spread the word throughout campus and on social media, and they are also sharing them in informational packets provided to incoming students.

Plans call for a follow-up survey in the future to assess the success of the campaign.

The Clearing the Clouds campaign isn’t just about informing students and encouraging them to adopt healthier behavior choices. The Student Health Services is also offering help to those who want to quit vaping.

For more information, visit wellness.siu.edu or call 618-536-4441.

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