USF seeks to educate amid vaping illness epidemic

The Center for Student Well-Being is working on putting together a survey to educate students about vaping and e-cigarettes.

As e-cigarettes and vaping become more socially acceptable, many students may not think twice about them.

However, the topics of e-cigarettes and vaping have become more relevant in a negative way the past few months as there have been outbreaks of severe lung disease related to the products.

As of Oct. 29, 37 deaths linked to vaping have been confirmed in 24 states in 2019, including three in Florida, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Of the 37, the youngest victim was a 17-year-old last month. 

Since the outbreaks, the CDC has recommended that people do not use e-cigarette or vaping products that contain THC.

To support the CDC’s statement, Jennifer DiPrete, the director of the Center for Student Well-Being, said the department is working on putting together a survey to educate students about the issue on campus.

“We want to get a better understanding from students about what e-cigarettes and vaping look like to them and what they know about it,” DiPrete said.

The survey wouldn’t be sent via email but rather handed out in person or collected through a  QR code that students would scan and fill out on their phones. 

The questions could range from information about vaping, if that student has participated in using e-cigarettes or if the student’s friends have used e-cigarettes.

No date has been decided on when the survey will be finalized and released.

DiPrete said she is working with other departments such as Health and Wellness to create informational social media posts and place posters in residential halls.

Although USF has been a tobacco and smoke-free campus since 2016, the increase of e-cigarette use and vaping have been more difficult to detect because of the vapor.

“The enforcement aspect of it is something that colleges and universities are struggling with,” DiPrete said.

In an effort to record health trends on campus, DiPrete said USF students take the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA) survey which is sent out every two to four years.

The survey is based on self-reports and covers topics about sexual health, weight, nutrition, exercise, mental health, personal safety and violence, alcohol, tobacco and the recently added e-cigarettes. 

About 1,100 students responded to the last ACHA-NCHA survey which was sent out via email four years ago.

The 2016 executive summary concluded that 87 percent said they never used, over 9 percent said they have used but not in the past 30 days and over 3 percent said they have used within the past 30 days.

This was lower than the 2016 national average of over 4 percent of people using within the past 30 days.

At this point it is unknown how USF’s e-cigarette use has changed since 2016, but DiPrete said a new survey will be sent to students spring 2020.

However, the national survey, which is updated every year, found that e-cigarette smoking use has nearly tripled from over 4 percent in 2016 to over 12 percent in 2019.

A fault in the survey is that it is based on students being honest about their smoking usage but Marie Bourgeois, a research assistant professor at the College of Public Health, said students are not ashamed to admit that they are vaping because it is accepted socially.

“Just because it is not permitted on campus, does not mean people are not using [the products] when they are walking to class or in buildings,” Bourgeois said. “ … Students could very well just exhale into their jackets.”

DiPrete said she believes the rise in e-cigarette products has to do with the flavors of vaporizers. Juul e-cigarettes come in a variety of flavors such as “cotton candy” and “strawberry milk.”

“It has become way more appealing for young people,” DiPrete said. “In the flavoring, there is a chemical that’s linked to some of the serious lung disease that’s been seen.

“There is no safe form of any cigarette or vaping item.”

Bourgeois said students shouldn’t be concerned with the number of deaths because it is relatively low nationally, but she said students should be mindful of where they purchase their products.

“The e-cigarettes were originally positioned as a smoking cessation tool for people trying to quit but it has evolved to a more marketable position than anticipated,” Bourgeois said. “Now they are being used by teenagers and people who have never smoked before with pods that are being modified with what could be harmful chemicals.”

“There is still a lot that is unknown about e-cigarettes, but the main cause in injuries and deaths are from people who are buying pods and modifying it to add other chemicals.”