NU community responds to vaping diseases, ban


Photo courtesy Creative Commons, Sarah Johnson,

Vaping, popular at Northeastern and at colleges around the country, has been banned in Massachusetts, leading to mixed reactions.

Sarah Olender, news correspondent

With more and more reports of vaping-related lung illnesses popping up around the country and vaping remaining prevalent on college campuses, it is time to examine the facts and misunderstandings about vaping.  

One misunderstanding is that all vaping-related illnesses are a result of black market THC products. The truth is most, but not all, of the reports of illnesses come from people who report having used THC products in the past. The only thing these patients all have in common is that they have used electronic cigarettes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, “the specific chemical exposure(s) causing lung injuries associated with e-cigarette use, or vaping, remains unknown at this time,” meaning there is no evidence determining a single product can be held accountable for the outbreak of these lung illnesses. 

At the beginning of October, there were more than 1,000 vaping-related illnesses reported throughout the United States. Of these illnesses, 37 percent of the reports are from people 20 years old or younger, and 80 percent of the reports are from people 35 years old or younger. 

The illnesses are also not confined to any specific region — reports have come in from 48 different states and the 18 deaths so far occurred in 15 different states.

Susan Mello, an assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern, is part of a team that conducted research on the effects of secondhand exposure to vaping. In regards to Charlie Baker’s temporary four-month ban on all vaping products, Mello said, “I think it’s a very dramatic action he’s taken.” 

Vaping is prevalent on Northeastern’s campus. In an anonymous survey of 177 NU students conducted by The News, 37 percent of students said they used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days, and 23 percent of students said they vape regularly. 

E-cigarette use is difficult to regulate because unlike a cigarette, the vapor is harder to smell or see. It is easier for students to vape in their dorms or in bathrooms than it is if they were smoking cigarettes. Since e-cigarette use is so widespread, colleges across the country are struggling to find solutions. 

“Kids are using it to get hooked,” said second-year business administration and communications studies combined major Mitra Sharif. 

Based on results from the anonymous survey, 25 percent of Northeastern students think e-cigarette use should not be allowed anywhere on campus, 40 percent think it should be allowed everywhere on campus, and 35 percent of students believe e-cigarette use should only be allowed in designated areas around campus. 

Some students are indifferent about vaping.  

“I don’t understand why people are bothered with other people vaping around campus,” said fourth-year mechanical engineering major Jack Carvalho. “With cigarettes, you smell them. With vaping, it’s not as noticeable.” 

Mello initially expressed her approval of Baker’s ban, but admitted some skepticism. 

“It’s going to send a message that these [e-cigarettes] are not safe,” she said. “If regulation comes out, people are more likely to believe that something is harmful.” She added that she is “nervous about the vape ban because it could cause an increase in cigarette smoking.” 

In the anonymous survey, students also expressed mixed feelings about the ban. 

“It should be a permanent thing, and smoking should be banned next. They are gross, unhealthy, and it doesn’t just affect the person consuming it. The smoke or vapor gets into the air and others breathe it in,” one student wrote.

Others were more critical of the ban. One student wrote that “the addicted are going to turn to cigarettes.” Another student pointed out the ban will affect local smoke shops that have popped up recently in response to the increased vaping culture.  

Of the 177 students surveyed, 24 said they were addicted to vaping, representing 14 percent of respondents. 

While there is not a single type of nicotine replacement therapy, or NRT, that is effective for all smokers or nicotine addicts, there are many different types that students can use to help overcome addiction. 

“The nicotine patch is an effective form of NRT,” Mello said. 

This patch sticks to skin and delivers a low dose of nicotine. Slowly, over time, the person replaces the patch with others that deliver lower doses until nicotine cravings are eliminated. 

“They have the same thing in the form of gum. Chantix is a prescription drug that nicotine addicts can use,” Mello said. “This addiction can be treated.”

One reason vaping has become so popular is that nicotine has a calming effect on the body. Mello said students have told her they use vaping devices for this purpose, and she urged them to find other avenues of stress relief.

“Join a meditation club, do yoga, get therapy,” Mello said. “There are healthier proven ways to reduce your anxiety.”