When computer science senior Julius Eillya walks to class, he can’t help but notice clouds of smoke in the corners of his eyes. Around 12.9% of college students reported they’ve vaped in the past 30 days, according to the American College Health Association’s 2018 National College Health Assessment, and Eillya used to be one of them.
He said he quit after realizing it was not worth the risk to his health.
Since August, one death and 30 cases of lung illnesses related to the use of e-cigarettes have been reported in Michigan. As of Oct. 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, reported 1,479 lung injury cases in 49 states and one territory, as well as 33 deaths in 24 states.
Following the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, or MDHHS, and the CDC’s release of multiple reports outlining the dangers of vaping, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made Michigan the first state to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes on Sept. 4. Michigan also issued a public health emergency in regard to vaping, and included a directive for vape shops to remove all flavored vape products within 30 days.
The ban was commended by Attorney General Dana Nessel, who issued the public health emergency. Under the rule, any store that continued to sell flavored vape products after the ban could be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by a $200 fine and/or six months in prison.
“The governor’s emergency actions today are exactly the bold measures we must take to protect Michigan’s children from the dangerous effects of vaping,” Nessel said in a statement.
A week after Whitmer took action, the flavored vape ban went nationwide when the Trump administration announced a halt on the production of non-tobacco flavors on Sept. 11.
“We are urging people to consider refraining from vaping until we know more, until the specific cause of these vaping-related severe lung injuries are determined,” said Lynn Sutfin, an MDHHS public information officer.
The ban was implemented in hope of preventing young people from using these products. However, smoke shops — many of which were negatively affected financially by the ban — opposed it. And Wild Bill’s Tobacco, an East Lansing smoke shop, encouraged its patrons to oppose the ban, too.
In a public statement, Wild Bill’s said the action taken by Whitmer was unprecedented, and the solution to the youth vaping problem is enforcing age restrictions, not banning flavors that could help many adults quit smoking cigarettes.
Some students also have doubts about the effectiveness of the ban, including human biology freshman Elizabeth Becker, who doesn’t think prohibiting flavor cartridges will stop anyone from vaping.
“I think it’s kind of unnecessary,” Becker said. “People are still gonna vape anyway, it’s more about the nicotine buzz,” Becker said. “But I guess if they want to stop vaping with younger kids it could work.”
However, things went back to the way they were Oct. 15 when a state court halted the flavored vape ban, making it so products can be sold until the court rules otherwise.
Retailers have challenged the ban in state and federal courts since it was fully implemented Oct. 1. But Whitmer plans to appeal Judge Cynthia Stephens’ rule in the Michigan Supreme Court.
“This decision is wrong. It misreads the law and sets a dangerous precedent of a court second-guessing the expert judgment of public health officials dealing with a crisis,” Whitmer said in a statement. “The explosive increase in youth vaping is a public health emergency, and we must do everything we can to protect our kids from its harmful effects.”
When asked about her opinion on the interruption of the ban, education freshman Molly Regan said she thinks there are both positive and negative consequences.
“I think it was headed in a good direction, because kids couldn’t get their hands on anything and they didn’t really know what to do,” Regan said. “But ... it’s coming back, so now I think many are prone to going back to it — so it might go in a more negative direction. But at the same time, when it was banned, kids would do it in a more unhealthy way.”
Even with the repeal of the ban, some students still find this vaping trend to be damaging, especially with the growing number of health issues related to it.
“A lot of my friends got into it early in high school and I just never did,” business-preference freshman Raymond Vizzaccaro said. “A lot of my friends have been addicted for a while, but fortunately I’m not.”
Vizzaccaro said even though he is concerned about his friends’ health, he chooses not to bring up the subject of quitting with them in order to avoid conflict. However, he does wish they would find help.
“I usually don’t bring up the subject, it can be touchy — it’s an addiction,” Vizzaccaro said. “I would love for my friends to quit and I will help them if they ask for it.”
At the same time, some students feel indifferent to the health risks, including an MSU sophomore who chose to remain anonymous, who continues to vape.
“I probably should quit, but I don’t really care,” they said.
Despite warnings issued by the MDHHS and the CDC, they use their e-cigarette multiple times an hour, and believe the injuries are related to THC products. Sixteen percent of college students used nicotine to vape during the past 30 days, and 11% used marijuana and 5% used flavor-only cartridges, according to the University of Michigan’s 2018 Monitoring the Future Survey.
The sophomore said the rise in lung illnesses and deaths related to vaping scared them.
“It definitely spooked me, I stopped using (THC) cartridges,” they said. “But I’m not gonna quit.”
In response to the reports and increase in e-cigarette use as noted by the CDC, MSU has begun to provide resources for those looking to quit.
“We have always recommended not to vape and continue to do so,” Marketing and Communications Manager for Student Health Services Kathi Braunlich said. “Employees and grad student employees wishing to quit the vaping habit can take the Health4U program ‘MSU Breathe Easy: Tobacco, Nicotine and Vaping Cessation Program.’”
Braunlich said MSU students can also contact the MSU Alcohol and Other Drug, or AOD, Program, located in the Student Services Building, for assistance.
“Additionally, students using nicotine-based vaping products can be helped by approved medications to help with the addiction habit,” she said.
Eillya continues to be concerned for the people around him since quitting vaping, and said he urges his friends to stop as well to protect their health.
“You are stronger than you think,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to quit, but I did — cold turkey. It was weird at first, but I did it.”