As people are finding loopholes to the newly implemented legal age to purchase electronic cigarettes, there is concern with lack of education on college campuses regarding health risks with vaping.
The United States Food and Drug Administration raised the minimum age to purchase e-cigarettes from 18 to 21 years old — however, according to Jessica Yingst, an assistant professor at the Penn State College of Medicine, online vendors don’t always ask for proof of age.
There are a host of ways for students to get access to these products, even if they aren’t over the age of 21, she said.
Products can be purchased by friends who are of age and online, which makes things difficult, Yingst said.
She said while there’s a higher percentage of high school students who vape, it is still a huge issue on college campuses as well.
According to Jonathan Foulds, a professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences Division of Health Services and Behavioral Research, the rate of reduction in teen smoking has accelerated since 2010 when e-cigarettes came on the market.
Additionally, it can be very easy for students to obtain such products.
“State College is like any other community in the country with lots of young people,” Foulds said. “In such communities, vaping products like Juul go through the roof.”
He said it’s also important to follow the rules and regulations the FDA sets for retail stores, even if they lose business from some of their younger target markets.
“If the name of the game is to eliminate the use of e-cigarettes, the first thing is to follow the rules,” Foulds said. “While these new laws should make a difference, there is already evidence that these laws are not being strictly enforced and both teens and retailers are trying to take advantage of loopholes.”
Access to retail locations is diminishing, as more places have banned the distribution of vape products.
According to Yingst, restricting access with age and location is going to help discourage vaping among students.
The FDA recently approved the banning of any flavored pods for Juuls — or any cartridge similar to the Juul pod — according to Yingst. There have been reports that customers are drawn to Juul due to the flavors, she said.
“We hope this step will cut down on e-cigarette consumption,” Yingst said.
However, new disposable products called Puff Bars recently came out, which is a way of circumventing the FDA’s rule about flavored cartridges.
There isn’t much enforcement from the FDA when it comes to single-use devices, she said.
A way of deterring students away from e-cigarette devices is to educate the public, according to Foulds.
“If we assume that high school and college-aged students are using e-cigs, it is reasonable to educate people that these are harmful,” Foulds said.
It is important to distinguish between nicotine e-cigarettes and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) vapes, according to Foulds. It is illegal to use THC products in Pennsylvania at any age without a prescription from a medical professional.
Although e-cigarettes may not be as bad as cigarettes, it is still unclear how harmful they are due to the novelty of e-cigarettes.
The 2019-2020 epidemic of serious vaping related lung disease was caused by contaminated THC vapes, not by nicotine e-cigarettes, he said.
However, he said nicotine e-cigarettes are not harmless — the nicotine can be addictive, and the long term effects of inhaling large amounts of propylene glycol and glycerin are unknown.
Therefore, for a student who decides to use e-cigarettes would see “significant worsening of health” if they are not regular smokers, Foulds said.
“E-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking a cigarette, but we don’t actually know the long term effects yet,” Foulds said.