UO Community Members Discuss Nicotine Use and Addiction | New


Joseph Tafar, a senior at the University of Oregon, said he started vaping in eighth grade, but it didn’t become a regular habit until later in high school. What started as a simple urge to blow smoke out of his mouth has turned into a way to cope with stress, he said.

“As my AP load and my classes increased, I found release in vaping,” he said.

Tafar said his nicotine addiction made it easier for him to break other bad habits he developed in high school.

Tafar is not alone. The National Institutes of Health reported that in 2019, 22% of college students reported vaping nicotine in the past month, up from around 6% in 2017. Whether it is a “party puffer.” casual or one vape cartridge user per day, most OU students know a user or are one themselves.

The high isn’t the only thing that draws students to nicotine; some users say it is also a way to be social. Matt Hall, a UO PhD student, said he started smoking when he was 16 and bonded with other smokers at school.

“It was an easy way to make friends really quickly because I found out that all smokers leave campus at lunchtime and they all go out onto the streets,” Hall said.

UO psychology professor Dr. Elliot Berkman has researched nicotine cessation. He said that while nicotine is an important addictive factor, there is also an important psychological factor that makes smoking and vaping addictive – and also difficult to quit.

“Cigarettes fit into our lives in different ways,” Berkman said. “You’re not just giving up the nicotine part, but you’re also giving up those little pauses, little habits and routines that are really built in.”

Those little breaks are what kept Hall addicted to cigarettes. He said taking a cigarette break was a nice way for him to kill a few minutes when he had some free time.

“I learned to really enjoy those moments because it was a way to come out and be mindful and just be there,” he said. “And, meanwhile, holding a cigarette.”

The vaping and e-cigarette industry is worth over $ 6 billion and growing rapidly. The products are widely regarded as a safer alternative to nicotine inhalations compared to traditional cigarettes, but they still contain potentially harmful chemicals. They have even been marketed and used as a means to quit smoking.

The Food and Drug Administration issued market denial orders for more than 946,000 nicotine-based electronic products in September 2020, making them more difficult to market and removing some products from the shelves altogether. The FDA said these products “lack sufficient evidence that they are of benefit to adult smokers.”

Berkman said these commands are a good development and will keep people healthy, but they are not enough to solve everything.

“The tobacco industry is incredibly creative,” he said. “They’ve banned all kinds of things, and then the tobacco industry comes up with something a little different that isn’t technically covered by the ban.”

Regarding the dropout, Tafar said he was unlucky. He said he wanted to quit, but has a long way to go between school and work, and quitting is not high on his to-do list.

“It has never occurred to me as a top priority at the moment,” he said. “I always had other things to do first. “

Hall, who is now 28, managed to quit. He said he hadn’t smoked regularly for six years. He thanks his roommate for helping him quit smoking.

As for those breaks outside, Hall said he doesn’t really miss them. He spends his time working and playing video games for fun – which he believes could be his own addiction.

“If I’m working and need a break then I’ll just start playing a video game,” he said. “But then I play Stardew Valley for 12 hours, and I don’t do any work anymore.”

These alternative habits, or “nicotine replacements,” are the most effective ways to break addiction and improve health, Berkman said. It also encourages students to take advantage of counseling services at UO.

Berkman said UO students should quit smoking not only to improve their own health, but the health of the university as a whole.

“I would just like to encourage students to think of quitting smoking as part of a duck,” he said. “It sounds a bit cliché, but I would say it’s something we all agree with.”

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