Column: Understanding, addressing vaping at OU

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This column is one in a series from Public Health Discussions, a student consultancy and awareness group dedicated to identifying and addressing public health issues on campus. Founded in 2017, the group has 15 consultants who have worked on three campus projects regarding mental health, vaping and nutrition, and have hosted numerous public health awareness events on campus.

The last decade has seen the practice of vaping largely filling the cultural space left by smoking.

Within the last few years, vaping, and the e-cigarettes and Juuls often associated with the practice, has gone from a smoking cessation product to an en vogue commodity popular with a younger demographic that is eager to partake in the latest trends.

This caught our attention, and we observed a seemingly exponential growth in the popularity of vaping on OU’s campus.

This perception, as we quickly discovered, was not unsubstantiated.

Our research led us to a recent CDC study, which found that e-cigarette usage among adults increased from 2.4 percent to 19.8 percent between 2013 and 2016 and that this exponential trend would likely continue. The American Lung Association’s cautionary vaping report, in which the organization warned that e-cigarette use has recently “become an epidemic,” also caught our attention. 

Despite the urgency expressed by national organizations, our research group found that existing literature on vaping is bare-bones. Even basic statistics, like the popularity of the practice on college campuses, are inconsistent and lacking.

Having noticed the rise of vaping at OU, we decided to collect our own data to understand vaping on campus in the hopes of developing possible interventions.

Our research group designed a survey for OU students in order to gauge demographic trends, popularity and perceptions regarding vaping. The 281 responses we’ve gathered since releasing this survey has been particularly telling.

Nearly one in four respondents, despite the convenience sampling bias in the survey, reported vape at OU. Of those individuals, the majority came to OU in 2017, indicating that people who vape are part of a younger cohort of students and are thus more impressionable by social trends. This explains why a majority of respondents reported they vape because their friends do.

Much of our data shows that effective education and counseling at OU regarding vaping is necessary. Though most respondents saw vaping as a recreational activity, they were divided on whether vaping was as harmful as smoking. Despite these discrepancies, more than 60 percent of respondents believed that vaping should not be allowed on campus.

With these results in mind, our next step is determining effective vaping education interventions.

Page Dobbs and Marshall Cheney, health and exercise science researchers who study vaping at OU, told said vaping is difficult to discuss through conventional awareness platforms, as the targeted audience usually ignores such efforts. Our team has developed contacts with other schools, such as Sacred Heart University and Southern Connecticut State University, about the successes and failures of their vaping awareness campaigns.

We keep student consensus at the core of its mission, so further interventions, including collaborations with SGA, will be discussed with the campus population before implementation. As vaping becomes an increasingly relevant public health issue moving forward, creating common sense, proactive public health programs at a university like OU is in the school's, and especially its students’, best interest.

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