The perception of cigarettes in the U.S. has evolved from an attractive socializing tool to a harmful product. Nowadays, smoking cigarettes remains the leading preventable cause of sickness and mortality and is responsible for over 400,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA). Those facts alone could make it only natural to motivate nicotine addicts to find a different outlet to get their fix.
Electronic cigarettes, or vapes, were first developed in China in 2003 and introduced to the U.S. in 2007, according to the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Assoc
iation. E-cigarettes have become a huge phenomenon in this country because they are perceived by users to be a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes.
Vapes deliver nicotine via flavorings and other chemicals to users in vapors, while traditional cigarettes burn tobacco. The health risks regarding tobacco-burning cigarettes are well documented, but less is known about the e-cigarette.
Doctoral student Page Daniel Dobbs has been involved in tobacco research since she was in high school. During her Masters thesis she was brainstorming ideas of “what next” when her advisor suggested she focus on e-cigarettes.
“They’re new and while there is more and more research every day about e-cigarettes, there’s still more questions to ask, so it’s fun and exciting,” Dobbs said.
Dobbs is conducting research at the UofA, regarding college students and their beliefs about the social norms surrounding e-cigarettes. Her research will answer the questions of whether college students as a whole view e-cigarettes and how non-users look at those who smoke e-cigarettes.
“My research is in social science, so it’s about beliefs of people, actions and behaviors of people,” Dobbs said.
While the health risks regarding electronic cigarettes are yet to be determined, the hard fact is that the devices still contain nicotine, which remains highly addictive.
Trent Robinson, an employee of Vapor Spot in Fayetteville, used to smoke cigarettes before switching to an electronic cigarette after hearing from a friend that it was a better alternative.
“I feel a lot healthier,” Robinson said. “I can run further and I can do my daily activities without being winded. It’s really nice.”
Robinson said he has completely stopped smoking conventional cigarettes and now only smokes from an e-cigarette. However, he knows the switch has not helped to stop his nicotine addiction.
“Days that I don’t have nicotine I freak out,” said Trent Robinson, employee of Vapor Spot in Fayetteville. “Days that I do have my nicotine, I’m fine.”
Dobbs says that while it is unclear whether electronic cigarettes are better than conventional cigarettes, she believes that if a smoker is trying to give up the habit then an e-cigarette is the better option.
“If someone is trying to quit smoking, if they can completely put down a cigarette and completely pick up an e-cigarette then yes I think they will see health benefits,” Dobbs said.
-Lauren Pizzey and Riley Depaola