In early August, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported 11 cases of serious lung impairments among teenagers and young adults who vaped recently, according to the City of Madison website.
According to the website, electronic cigarettes and vaping products could contain toxic chemicals which are often detrimental to human lungs.
According to the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention website, electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices are battery-powered products designed to deliver nicotine, flavor and other chemicals to users. They turn chemicals, including nicotine, into an aerosol that is then inhaled by the user.
University Health Services Substance Abuse Prevention Specialist Jenny Damask said nicotine found in electronic cigarettes is highly addictive, increases heart rate and blood pressure and could impact brain development.
UW Chief Medical Officer and Director of Medical Services Dr. Bill Kinsey said the vapor emitted by electronic cigarettes often contains toxic chemicals which pose risks to human health.
Based on statistics Damask accessed from AlcoholEDU, a compulsory online course for all incoming students at UW, 20.9% of incoming students this year reported past usage of electronic cigarettes, compared to 6.2% three years ago.
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Director of Advocacy for the American Lung Association in Wisconsin Dona Wininsky said the organization was working with various universities and colleges in the state to promote tobacco-free policies on campus.
Wininsky said UW had not yet fully implemented the policy but was working towards that direction.
“By reducing, and eventually eliminating, the use of cigarettes, tobacco and other nicotine-containing products on campus, we continue our efforts to provide a safe and healthy environment for students and employees,” Kinsey said.
Wininsky also said for universities that had already implemented the policy, there was not a universal enforcement mechanism across the board, and each university set up its own punishment guidelines for people who violate the policy.
Damask said at UW, electronic cigarettes were added to the tobacco policy in 2016. Under the policy, people are not allowed to use electronic cigarettes inside university buildings or within 25 feet of these properties.
Wininsky said despite all the efforts the organization and universities had put in, the key to combat electronic cigarette usage still largely lay on FDA and the Congress. The FDA needs to “step up its game” and Congress needs to pass relevant laws to better regulate the product, Wininsky said.
“Right now we don’t know what is in these products,” Wininsky said. “They can vary from one product to the next depending on who is mixing up the juuls and where they are getting their supplies. There needs to be some uniformities and some regulations on both the manufacture but also the sales and distribution of these products.”
UW junior Pooja Sivakumar said more regulations needed to be put into place in order to reduce electronic cigarette usage, since she has observed the relative ease with which teenagers and college students gain access to and purchase these products.
When it comes to quitting, Damask said, there were various strategies available. People could also consider seeking help from an app and quit line, Damask said.
One such example was the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line. UW-CTRI Outreach Specialist Alex Peeters said the quit line offers free, confidential phone-based services to help users who were at least 13 years old to quit tobacco products.
Peeters said all coaches working for the quit line have undergone intensive training, including training on how to effectively work with youth, and were able to provide individualized services based on different needs of customers.
To better cater to the needs of youth, online coaching services were also added to the quit line, Peeters said.
“I know most youth today aren’t the biggest fans of having to pick up the phone and actually talk to somebody, so this might be a way for them to access the quick line a little bit more readily,” Peeters said.
On the university level, Damask said at UW, students planning on quitting could ask for help from professional staff at UHS. Damask said students could set up appointments with a primary care doctor through their MyUHS portal, who would then refer them to the Behavioral Health team for further actions.