http://www.misthub.com/blogs/vape-tutorials/76788613-tutorial-propylene-glycol-pg-vs-vegetable-glycerin-vg-e-juiceImagine, for a second, that your health is your grade point average. Right now, regardless of how high or low your GPA is, it does not have an impact on your ability to meet your day to day needs. Your GPA doesn’t prohibit you from eating, sleeping or finding a decent part-time job. However, perhaps your first “Welcome Week” turned into a “Welcome Semester” and you ditched the library for tailgates. Whether it's interviewing for your dream job or applying to graduate school later down the road, you are likely to face some regret and pain for the decisions you made when you were younger and less experienced. The same can be said about your health. Like your freshman year GPA, when it comes to your body’s health, there are no do-overs. Just as partying, skipping class and failing exams can take their toll on your GPA, habits such as vaping can come at a price. 

Vaping in recent years has grown in popularity and evolved into its own culture. The practice is no longer confined to smoking cessation; students taking a hit between classes or at the library are no longer an uncommon sight. As one VICE article explained, “vaping can mean different things to different people.” In essence, vaping is the inhalation of vaporized e-liquid using e-cigarettes, including JUULs and similar devices. E-liquid is either propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin mixed with nicotine or marijuana (THC or CBD) and can contain artificial flavoring. Vaping’s increasing popularity is not unique to the University of Michigan’s campus. The University’s national “Monitoring the Future” study found the percent of college students vaping marijuana and/or nicotine doubled between 2017 and 2018.

Unfortunately, we are just beginning to witness the impact that this cultural phenomenon is having on our short-term health. As of Sept. 2019, six people have died from lung illnesses related illnesses related to vaping nicotine or THC. According to the same VICE article, about 450 cases of vaping-associated illness are suspected in hospitals across the United States. MeiLan K. Han, professor of internal medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Michigan Medicine, told VICE that “at this time there is no guaranteed ‘safe’ form of vaping,” because the cases have been linked to e-liquid containing marijuana and nicotine. Perhaps this growing epidemic can be traced to lack of regulation. As the VICE article states, currently there is no regulation or inspection of e-cigarette manufacturers or vape shops, so there is no way to tell if a device or liquid is from a reputable source. Without regulation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, e-liquid manufacturers have free rein to mislabel the contents of their product and do not have to meet a single standard during the manufacturing process. 

Furthermore, the long-term health costs of vaping are just as steep as the short-term consequences. According to VICE, some studies have found vaping CBD can cause some users to experience irritability, lethargy, reduced appetite or urination, gastrointestinal distress, rashes, breathing issues, or in the worst instances, liver problems or exacerbations of mental health issues. Proponents of vaping often argue it’s a better alternative to smoking cigarettes and has enabled them to find a sense of community. However, a recent Stanford University investigation of flavored e-liquids found that even without nicotine e-cigarette use, flavorings may increase one’s heart disease risk. As important as it is to find a support group, it shouldn’t have to come at the expense of your health. While we should acknowledge that e-cigarette use has helped smokers reduce or eliminate their addiction, we can’t ignore the fact that vaping is also inspiring the next generation to become addicted to nicotine. 

When it comes to preventing the practice of vaping in the first place, the work of state governments is worrisome at best. As long as our state governments continue to generate revenue from tobacco product sales, the idea of states running and funding tobacco prevention programs seem to be a complete conflict of interest. During 2019 fiscal year, all 50 states will collect over 27 billion dollars in total revenue from tobacco settlements and tobacco taxes. However, only 2.4 percent of this revenue will go towards tobacco prevention and cessation programs. Michigan’s tobacco prevention program funding currently ranks 45th out of all 50 states with a budget that is only 1.5 percent of the funding levels recommended by the CDC. The reality is that tobacco products are a significant source of revenue for the state; from a fiscal standpoint, why would the state fully fund prevention programs that jeopardize a revenue source? Placing the responsibility of preventing drug use in the hands of the same institution that is profiting from it doesn’t make sense. 

Luckily for college students at the University and across the country, there are ample resources available on campus to help students with substance abuse. Programs are in place within the University Health System to break down financial and immigration status barriers that might impede access to these resources for students. However, this is only accessible if students are willing to ask for help. Nevertheless, the resources available on campus represent a reactive solution to this growing epidemic. Students often do not access these resources until after vaping has become a substantial problem. As vaping continues to grow in popularity, resisting peer pressure to start vaping regularly will only prove more difficult. Consequently, high school students on their way to college do not fully grasp these consequences of vaping. If we want to make sure students are making an educated choice to vape and discourage students from starting in the first place, we need a proactive solution. 

As college students, our firsthand experience navigating the stressors and social pressure of college life makes us uniquely qualified to educate students on how to avoid or reduce consumption of e-liquids. College students should take the lead on educating the next generation on the consequences of vaping. As the leaders and the best, we have a responsibility to educate the next generation of college students about the reality of substance use and consequences on campus.

In life, rarely do we ever purchase something without knowing its price. By failing to properly educate youth on vaping and its potential health risks, we are allowing young vapers to blindly jeopardize their health, both long term and short term. Just like your freshman year GPA, your body’s health doesn’t get a “do-over.” As a student body, we have a responsibility to take advantage of the resources available to curb vaping for those who do not believe it's worth the expense to one’s health.  We also have a responsibility to educate the next generation of college students about the consequences of vaping and the resources available to help them quit. Vaping should not be a blind choice: It should be an educated choice. 

Soneida Rodriguez can be reached at soneida@umich.edu.

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