Even though Cal State Long Beach forbids the use of tobacco and vaporizers on campus, students and faculty are still trying to find places to sate their craving. Isabella Lanza, assistant professor of human development, attempts to find why they do it.
Lanza created the Risky Health Among Adolescents and Young Adults lab in 2015 to study co-occurring health risks such as obesity and substance use in adolescence and young adults. Researchers at the lab tackle these topics through studying health risks among populations.
Last year, the lab conducted a yearlong study on campus which focused on behaviors that increased health-risks including the act of “vaping.” They set up a table and surveyed 500 undergraduate students.
Although vaporizers contain less chemicals and don’t involve inhaling smoke, the devices still use nicotine, a highly addictive chemical.
Lanza found that, in 2016, 40 percent of undergraduates had tried using a vaporizer. According to Lanza, the study was one of the first that included an ethnically diverse college population. Her results suggested that vaping was normative by that time.
“We found that there were no ethnic differences across students on vaping use, so that was really interesting,” she said. “There was also no sex differences, which was very unexpected because at the time a lot of studies said males were more likely to vape.”
Many students used to take part in the smoking culture on campus. Freshman Nathan Rawlings, anthropology major, said he used to smoke on campus.
“I just recently quit,” Rawlings said. “I used to actually go out [and] find a place on campus far enough away from people to either smoke or vape.”
Dereck Davis, senior marketing major, said he used to smoke but started feeling its negative effects.
“I don’t really have a problem with people vaping, but with smoking I feel like secondhand smoke is damaging to our lungs,” Davis said.
Rawlings also sees the negative culture in smoking.
“I can see how annoying [smoking] would be for other people to be doing it on campus around me just because you don’t know who recently quit or anything like that,” Rawlings said. “So you don’t know who you’re enticing with the smell or seeing them do it, and you don’t know how hard you’re making it on people.”
In part of the lab’s second study, researchers found that obese adolescents and young adults are more likely to vape.
Lanza attributes three mechanisms to explain the correlation between the obesity and the substance use.
A biobehavioral mechanism aims to find a link between nicotine and food rewards. According to Lanza, research suggests that food and nicotine share the same neural pathways, and thus give the same pleasures.
Another mechanism suggests that substance use among obese individuals is correlated with weight management. Lanza said that the research is mixed and explains that adults who gain weight after quitting smoking often go back to it.
Lanza’s research is focused more on what she calls a social-contextual mechanism, which refers to the context to explain a behavior. She observed that obese adolescents and young adults may use tobacco as a way to be accepted by deviant peers.
“Obese adolescents are not really popular… there’s a lot of social stigma,” Lanza said. “A lot of times they seek out groups to hang out with and deviant peers … many people don’t know this but deviant peers aren’t popular either. They’re kind of on the periphery of social networks so obese adolescents may find a way to get socially accepted by a periphery groups like deviant peers.”
According to Lanza, vaping is in its tenth year, but it didn’t start to trend with college students until 2012. Between 2011 and 2014, she said the prevalence rates of vaping across young adults doubled each year.
By the time the lab surveyed students across Long Beach, there were 12 vape shops. However, she doesn’t think vape culture will last very long.
“I actually think I won’t be doing this work in two years because it’s not going to really be a concern for college students anymore,” Lanza said while citing tax laws and predicting a growing marijuana trend. “Vaping… seems it’s going to have a short period of popularity compared to cigarette smoking.”
Although Lanza believes that smoking isn’t as popular among college students as it used to be, she feels that the prevalence of binge drinking among the demographic is a concern.
“Our culture still thinks binge drinking in college is normal,” Lanza said. “We need to focus more on that type of health risk that actually our students are endorsing [through binge drinking]. It’s related to so many other problems like violence, sexual assault, DUI. We need to be focusing on that.”