Opinion editors: UCLA has resources to steer students away from vaping, and it should use them
Research, academia and knowledge have not yet made their way to e-cigarette usage and its potential for long-term harmful effects on humans. UCLA, a research-first university, should get ahead of the issue and conduct research on extensive vape usage and lung damage. (Kanishka Mehra/Assistant Photo editor)
UCLA is going up in smoke.
But hold the flames – that’s so 1950s.
Often referred to as an epidemic, vaping has hit college campuses hard. It’s not exactly a surprise – students are the prime demographic for what some have called a new generation of smokers. According to a 2017-2018 California Student Tobacco Survey, a third of high school students in Los Angeles Country had tried nicotine, and 10% used it regularly. Nationally, almost 38% of high school seniors had vaped in 2018.
Needless to say, UCLA’s campus will be getting hazier in the years to come.
But these aren’t high school bathrooms, and colleges can’t do much when it comes to discipline, at least, because of a widespread illicit market of vape sales.
So while universities like UCLA can’t give out slaps on the wrist for vaping, they are in a unique position to do something much more substantial – and it’s in line with UCLA’s core mission statement of education, research and service.
As vaping continues to plague the college generation, public universities like UCLA have an opportunity to throw research and resources behind something that directly affects their student bodies. While legislators ban flavored pods, UCLA can help pinpoint the causes of and cures for this widespread addiction – before the classes of 2022 and beyond become guinea pigs in Juul Labs Inc.
All jokes aside, that idea rings true.
At the end of the day, scientists, CEOs and students alike have very little idea just how bad vaping is for the human body – or how long the effects might last. Just as cigarettes were marketed as healthy before the cancer bit came out, vaping was pushed as a better alternative.
But ignorance doesn’t mean bliss in this case.
Fueling the most recent concern over vaping is a string of deaths and severe respiratory illnesses. Certainly, a pattern is emerging – but no one has many ideas about the long-term effects of such behavior or the way to approach a new generation of hopeful quitters.
Simply put, UCLA is perched at the forefront of a scientific frontier. A student body that needs help quitting, a research community without answers and a plethora of long-term implications leave the university with the responsibility to throw funding behind research for this – as well as providing counseling for those working through the foreign territory of quitting.
For students, picking up a vape pen is easier to do now than it is to learn the long-term effects of continued usage. After all, a sleek and stylish Juul is the newest fad, with younger addicts scoffing at tobacco users for the cigarette stench. And that’s a race against time that the university must come out on top of. Close to 1,300 lung injury cases and 26 vaping-related deaths have occurred so far in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And these numbers are just the beginning if research isn’t conducted and published soon. Impressionable youth will continue to follow the bad habits of their friends for something as minor as fitting in. Such is the case with 4.9 million youths consuming some form of tobacco in 2018 – e-cigarettes being the most popular – according to a CDC Vital Signs report.
A good chunk of those 4.9 million youths will have started college in this academic year or will do so next year. And the best chance to put an end to those habits is at the very start. Because, in the moment, it’s all about looking cool or fitting in to please the person who won’t even remember your name in a month. But years down the line when the lung disease just keeps persisting, trading in that one night of fitting in for a perpetuity of nights coughing up a storm or using an inhaler just doesn’t seem to be worth it at all.
Massive public relations campaigns have been undertaken to repel young adults from vaping, to no avail. Despite health warnings posted on billboards, flavored pods being removed from shelves and even the minimum age of purchase boosted to 21, the damage has been done. Retroactively, mitigating addiction is much more difficult than preventing it from ever happening, and UCLA can be part of the solution to educate the public on vaping health risks.
With action from the CDC, U.S. Food & Drug Administration and other larger bodies of research, UCLA’s impact might seem like a drop in the pod. But UCLA has been at the forefront of medical dilemmas since its inception. And although it shouldn’t be a mystery as to why inhaling fruity chemicals causes severe lung damage, it’s a pressing issue that all available means – including UCLA’s broadband of resources – should go toward.
After all, these are UCLA’s past, present and future students who are at risk or have already fallen prey to predatory marketing and delicious chemicals. If UCLA has the capacity to address a national health epidemic, then it’s a responsibility undoubtedly worth taking.
Because when the smoke clears, students shouldn’t be left to see how UCLA has failed them.