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How colleges can help their students quit vaping

As e-cigarette use among young people continues to escalate, colleges are grappling with how to address vaping on campus.

Recent data show that more than a quarter — 25.4% — of high school seniors have used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, with 40.5% reporting that they have ever used e-cigarettes. Many of these young people are continuing, or starting, regular e-cigarette use in college, putting them at increased risk for long-term, long-lasting effects of exposing their developing brains to nicotine.

Some schools are implementing programs to help e-cigarette users quit. Here are three ways that colleges and universities across the United States, including institutions that Truth Initiative® works with through its Tobacco-Free College Program, are addressing e-cigarette use and quitting on their campuses.

College kids walking up stairs

Survey students

Is there a difference between saying e-cigarette and vape

Many schools began to see an increase in vaping a few years ago, but many did not have accurate information about use on campus.

At the University of Arizona, for example, Campus Health first asked about e-cigarette use in a 2016 health and wellness survey and saw rates of about 6.3%. The following year, staff updated the question to include other names for devices, such as JUUL, and verbs such as “vape,” and saw that about 24% of students were using e-cigarette devices within the last 30 days. The takeaway: there are a variety of terms that young people use to refer to vaping and using e-cigarettes. Schools should make sure survey efforts are capturing the right data by using a variety of terms.

Another approach is to survey at a campus health or wellness center. At SUNY Sullivan, a Truth Initiative Tobacco-Free College Program grantee, the school nurse is now implementing a questionnaire to ask about e-cigarette use so that counseling can be provided during regular wellness visits.

Use peer-to-peer approaches

Best way to get teens to stop vaping?

Getting students to come to the table to talk about e-cigarette use and quitting can be difficult, both literally and figuratively. Research has shown that young people are more receptive to information when it comes from peers.

At Chaminade University of Honolulu, another school in the Tobacco-Free College Program, masters students in counseling have been trained to provide quitting counseling to their peers. During these counseling sessions, they teach students about the quitting process, help them establish a quit plan and then follow up with them throughout their quit process to assist with any difficulties. They have also created a program where they train two undergraduate students  to talk about quitting. These students then go into dorms and talk with their peers about tobacco, its health risks and how to quit if they are addicted to nicotine.

Include e-cigarette use in campus policies

Do smoke-free policies work for vaping?

A growing number of U.S. colleges and universities are adopting smoke-free policies — the number of schools with such policies more than doubled between 2012 and 2017.

Many of these tobacco- and smoke-free policies include e-cigarettes and similar devices and go on to help create a culture of rejecting tobacco, protect community members from secondhand smoke and vape exposure, and create opportunities to engage students about quitting. For example, the Truth Initiative Tobacco-Free College Program uses community organizing and direct action to work with truth® college leaders at participating schools to engage peers and build momentum for change on their campuses. 

Truth Initiative also launched a first-of-its kind e-cigarette quit program called This is Quitting that colleges and universities can provide as a resource. The free text message program was created with input from teens, college students and young adults who have attempted to, or successfully, quit e-cigarettes.

Youth and young adults can access the e-cigarette quit program by texting DITCHJUUL to 88709. Parents and other adults looking to help young people quit should text QUIT to (202) 899-7550.

More than 70,000 young people enrolled in the program in 2019, and, according to preliminary data published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research, after just two weeks of using the program, more than half — 60.8% — reported that they had reduced or stopped using e-cigarettes. Schools, as well as youth-serving organizations and state and local governments, can also partner with This is Quitting to customize it for their unique populations.

Learn more about This is Quitting and the Tobacco-Free College Program.