Coming from the Midwest, Boston College was quite a culture shock for me. The student body is the overwhelmingly affluent, frequently adorned in Vineyard Vines and Sperry’s, and used to varying handshake styles that I inevitably butcher when first meeting new people. But one of the more surprising cultural differences that I noticed at BC was the prevalence of e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes, colloquially known as “vapes,” seem to be everywhere. A formidable number of my peers can often be seen puffing on devices that look like phone chargers or flash drives—leaving dorm stairwells smelling faintly of toasted marshmallows or cotton candy.
The apparent prevalence of vaping on campus is not surprising given recent national trends. Yearly sales of e-cigarettes skyrocketed from $20 million in 2008 to around $2.9 billion in 2015, and the number of high school students who use e-cigarettes went from 1.5% in 2011 to 16% in 2015. The increase in e-cigarette use has coincided with a decline in cigarette smoking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of adults who smoke cigarettes has decreased from 20.9% in 2005 to about 15% in 2013, and cigarette use was at an all time low as of 2015.
These statistics indicate that e-cigarettes are replacing traditional cigarettes in the United States, particularly among young people. This seems to be the result of a variety of factors.
Cigarettes have been on the decline for a while now, in large part due to the circulation of information on the health risks of smoking. The desire to put things into our lungs—particularly nicotine, which most vapes contain—seems to be a deeply ingrained habit of human culture, and college students may now be turning to vapes as an alternative to cigarettes. Although vapes are still a health risk to users, studies indicate that they are healthier than cigarettes because they contain fewer chemicals and don’t emit secondhand smoke that puts bystanders at risk. E-cigarettes are also more economical than cigarettes and may appeal to students because they come in fruit and candy flavors.
For better or for worse, it looks as if vapes are now a part of the social scene at Boston College. The evolution of people inhaling substances other than air into their lungs seems to be progressing—and maybe moving from the age of cigarettes to the age of vapes isn’t so bad. In the near future at least, the fruity-flavored clouds of vapor are here to stay at Boston College.