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Escape the Vape: An Anti-Smoking Guide for College Students

Whether you’re preparing for your first day of college or you’re a seasoned senior, it can be hard to avoid, or kick, a smoking habit. Keep reading to learn the truth about nicotine, vapes, and e-cigarettes, as well as tips on how to avoid them altogether.

Close-up of a bearded man exhaling vapor from an electronic cigarette, focusing on the device in his hand and the cloud of vapor surrounding him as he attempts to quit smoking.

Roommate drama, strict professors, never-ending lectures, late-night study sessions, all-night parties—it’s enough to make anyone want to find a way to take the edge off. Whether you’re a freshman or a super senior, there’s no getting around it: college is stressful . And while vaping may seem like a tempting way of managing that stress, it’s actually just a short-term solution with long-term consequences. Whether you started—or are thinking of starting—to deal with anxiety, navigate social pressures, or wean yourself off traditional cigarettes, vaping is not just a habit, it’s an addiction.

And if you want to get rid of that addiction, you’ve already taken the hardest and most important step. It may seem like an impossible task, but getting through college without vaping or smoking is doable with the right tools. In this guide we’ll address how harmful nicotine is and how to navigate the smoking scene on campus, provide you with resources, and show you the reality behind the myth of the “healthy vape.” Keep reading to take your next step toward a nicotine-free life.

What is Nicotine Addiction?

Although it may not be immediately apparent, nicotine addiction is a subtle manipulator slowly messing with your mind and eating away at your health. Nicotine addiction is an addiction to or dependence on tobacco products caused by the drug nicotine. It might start by taking the occasional hit of your friend’s vape, which leads you to buy your first one . . . and then another. You might not realize when you start to hit a vape without thinking, take smoke breaks during class, or get headaches that only smoking can fix, but eventually you’ll notice how agitated you get if it’s been too long since you last smoked. It’s a slow burn toward addiction—difficult to notice until it’s too late. Despite its insidious nature, nicotine addiction can be avoided and overcome with proper education, determination, and support.

Fast Facts on Nicotine Use in College

Nicotine is used frequently and casually on most campuses, even some smoke-free campuses are not fully free of tobacco. If you’re new to college, or maybe just to the smoking scene on campus, it might help to know just how prevalent (and inconvenient) it really is:

  • Smoking starts young. Most smokers take up the habit while still underage out of curiosity or in response to peer pressure.
  • According to the National College Health Assessment, 78% of college students reported having used vapes or e-cigarettes in the last 3 months.
  • Smoking is expensive. Frequent smoking, whether cigarettes or vapes, can be an expense you can’t afford, or would benefit from avoiding, as a college student.
  • A study by Virginia Commonwealth University found that “tobacco users stated they would continue to smoke or vape on a tobacco-free campus”

Signs & Symptoms of Addiction

Nicotine dependency develops quickly, quietly changing habits and brain chemistry, hiding the more intense side effects behind withdrawal. Educating yourself on the symptoms is the first step in addressing them in yourself and others, seeing beyond the mood swings to the reason underneath.

  • Persistent want. If you aren’t smoking, you’re thinking about it; there is an ever-present desire to smoke again.
  • Social interference. You need to take smoke breaks during work, class, even that date you’ve been dying to get, or start avoiding smoke and vape-free areas.
  • Difficulty quitting. You have tried quitting before but keep coming back to nicotine.
  • Withdrawal. When you try to quit, you suffer from headaches, sleep problems, and brain fog.

Unfortunately for those trying to quit or avoid smoking, nicotine use is very popular among college-aged students. Whether you are going to school online or on-campus, the general student opinion on nicotine is one of live and let live, or rather live and let smoke. It can be difficult to quit when your peers aren’t, but with appropriate planning, you can not only avoid college roadblocks but use your campus resources to prevent relapse or addiction in the first place.

Celebrate Milestones

The road to recovery is long, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have anything to celebrate. Make sure to congratulate yourself for each incremental step you take, such as your first 24 hours clean, first 72 hours, one week, or something as seemingly inconsequential as turning down social smoking. This can provide a deeper appreciation for how far you have come, and a drive to keep going. The biggest hurdles are actually at the beginning as withdrawal symptoms are the most severe in the first week. Celebrating milestones isn’t just for those battling addiction either. If you’re struggling to avoid taking up the habit, celebrate every time you manage to do so.

Plan Ahead & Be Prepared

Staying smoke-free in college can be tough, and your environment can play a key role. Knowing not only where you’re likely to encounter temptation and/or pressure, but how you will deal with it is important. It can help to know when and where people are likely to offer to smoke and what you’ll say when they do.

Pursue Your Passions

Getting involved on campus or with organizations can connect you with people in a non-smoking environment who share similar interests. Participating in a club, sport, society, or organization can distract your mind from nicotine cravings and engage you with your community in a way that’s good for your mind and body. If you’re a non-smoker struggling to find a way to socialize in a smoke-free setting, this is a great place to start.

Reflect and Take Note of Temptations

Smoking forms habits and taking note of those habits can help you avoid them. Knowing what makes you want to smoke is a key part of stopping or avoiding it to begin with. Whether it’s a response to stress, social pressure, your daily routine, or sheer curiosity; you should note and reflect impartially on how to manage these temptations without picking up a vape.

Seek Help

Acknowledging that you have a problem and asking for help is one of the most important steps to recovery. Quitting is hard enough, there’s no need to make it harder by going through it alone. Connecting with family, friends, campus resources, or medical professionals can make the difference between a successful recovery and a relapse.

You Can Breathe Easy: Quitting is Possible

Now that you’ve decided to stop smoking, it’s time to explore the many programs and resources available to help you. There is a method for just about everyone, from yoga to medicine, to apps and support groups. Finding a method that speaks to you cannot only personalize your journey, but also make it seem more achievable.

Homeopathic & Natural Methods

Homeopathy seeks to overcome nicotine withdrawal through natural means such as exercise, meditation, or natural medicines. Natural methods have the dual benefit of helping you quit and also improving your quality of life.


  • The Art of Living – This program helps you use yoga to overcome nicotine addiction.
  • Mindbody – Connects you to various fitness and wellness courses.
  • National Center for Homeopathy – This helps you find local homeopathic practitioners in your area, or online.
  • smokefree.gov – Including exercise in your routine can help curb cravings and keep your mind busy.
  • WebMD – Explore martial arts and stress reduction techniques as a means of quitting smoking and improving your well-being.

Medical Help

If traditional methods just don’t seem to be making a dent in your cravings or smoking habits, you have the option of seeking medical help in the form of drug therapy. Some drugs inhibit your brain from receiving nicotine while others limit the symptoms of addiction and withdrawal, allowing for an easier transition into sobriety.


Mobile Apps & Tools

Nicotine cravings can be constant, but so is your access to your phone. Mobile apps can help you track milestones and financial savings, maintain your motivation, and find personalized help, all of which are unique to you and your phone.


  • EasyQuit – This app helps you meet and monitor your milestones and money goals.
  • Get Rich or Die Smoking – This app helps you visualize how much money you’ve saved by not smoking.
  • Kwit – A pocket coach to help motivate you to not smoke.
  • Puff Count – This helps you visualize your nicotine intake and vaping habits, recognize triggers, and set goals over time.
  • quitStart – This free app gives you personalized tips, motivation, and challenges to help you live nicotine-free.

Organizations & Groups

If you want a more social support system, organizations can make your journey to recovery significantly easier. Organizations and groups can connect you to people on their own journey, as well as those interested in helping you on yours.


Therapy & Coaching

For more personalized help with quitting, therapy and coaching are a good approach. While the benefits of therapy may be less immediate than those of medicine, its results can last long after your prescription has expired and provide you with insights about how to avoid relapse.


Myth vs. Reality: Nicotine, Smoking, Vaping, and More

Nicotine products have been around for a very long time, so it’s not surprising that they’re shrouded in a cloud of misinformation, myths, and lies particularly when it comes to vaping. Here are some of the myths you might have heard that downplay the severity and intensity of nicotine addiction.

Myth: Vaping is harmless water vapor.

Reality: Vaping “juice” is chock-full of additives, chemicals, and even metals. According to a study by researchers at the California Department of Public Health, vapes contain cancer-causing metals such as chromium and nickel. Although less harmful than the traditional alternative, e-cigarettes and vapes are not harmless nor simply water vapor, but a concoction of chemicals designed to be tasty and addictive.

Myth: Vaping can help you quit smoking.

Reality: While vaping can help you stop using cigarettes, it can also help you develop a new, equally difficult-to-kick vaping addiction. In one study the Stanford Prevention Research Center found that one vape has the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. So, while vaping can help you stop smoking cigarettes, it can’t help you shake your nicotine dependency.

Myth: Smoking helps relieve stress and anxiety.

Reality: According to the CDC, nicotine actually causes stress and anxiety during withdrawal. However, the symptoms of withdrawal can be repressed by nicotine, which is where this misconception comes from. Nicotine creates a problem, then provides a temporary fix, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of discomfort and relief.

Myth: Nicotine isn’t addictive.

Reality: Nicotine is very addictive, plain and simple; no matter what CEOs testified to. Nicotine is addictive on a chemical level, releasing dopamine in your brain, causing a temporary feeling of euphoria you get hooked on chasing, leading to dependency.

Myth: “I can quit whenever I want”.

Reality: Words spoken by every addict. You can’t quit without admitting that you have a problem. Nicotine might not kill you outright like meth or cocaine but according to the University of California San Francisco, nicotine is just as addictive, if not more.

Science Behind the Smoke: What’s Really in a Vape?

Although vapes have been touted as the healthier alternative to cigarettes, they are not healthy in and of themselves. As a relatively new class of product, vapes are far less regulated and research on their ingredients and long-term effects, particularly in comparison to other nicotine products, is still in its infancy. This gap in regulation and research allows for harmful carcinogens, toxic chemicals, and heavy metals to work their way into vapes and your lungs.


Definition: Acetaldehyde is used as a catalyst inside the vape to make flavorful vapor from the chemicals.

Consequences: Acetaldehyde can cause mild irritation in the lungs, or eyes in the short term. However, acetaldehyde is also a known carcinogen; a type of chemical that dramatically increases your chances of developing lung cancer. The chance of developing cancer increases with repeated exposure.


Definition: In order to create the desired cloud or base for the juice, a plethora of chemical additives are needed, few of which are healthy.

Consequences: Most additives can cause both short and long-term damage. Diethylene glycol, used as a base for e-juice, is a toxic chemical linked to lung disease. Another additive, propylene glycol causes eye irritation and lung inflammation. Formaldehyde is another additive, and a known carcinogen—it is also a primary ingredient in glue and embalming fluid.

Chemicals from Flavorings

Definition: Chemicals from flavorings are added to vape juice solely for flavor purposes. They heat up during the “pulling” of the vape, reacting with the other chemicals, producing additional compounds and the flavor users enjoy.

Consequences: A study from Harvard found that 47 out of their 51 tested flavors had flavoring chemicals tied to permanent lung damage. One of the chemicals, diacetyl, can cause “popcorn lung,” an incurable lifelong disease.

Heavy Metals

Definition: A study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health discovered that vapes have heavy metals like chromium, lead, and nickel in amounts that exceed health regulation limits by over 50%.

Consequences: Chromium and nickel cause lung diseases, including cancer. Lead can interfere with brain function. Arsenic, while found in smaller quantities, is also present within some vapes. Despite its small concentration, arsenic lasts longer in the lungs, increasing your risk of lung, kidney bladder, and heart disease.


Definition: The most addictive ingredient in vapes, nicotine is the chemical responsible for the high you feel when smoking. It creates this high by releasing dopamine, otherwise called the “happy chemical,” giving you a temporary feeling of euphoria that diminishes with repeated use.

Consequences: Nicotine causes nicotine dependency, long-term mood disorders, and reduced impulse control. In the short-term nicotine can cause headaches, nausea, increased blood pressure, heart rate, and constant cravings.

Ultrafine Particles

Definition: Ultrafine particles are broken up during the combustion process, are exceedingly small, and usually inhaled during smoking.

Consequences: Because ultrafine particles are so small they get caught in the body, spreading from the lungs and collecting in organs and blood, causing coughs, exacerbated asthma, and systemic inflammation.

Anti-Smoking Resources for College Students and Beyond

Now that you know the health risks associated with vaping, and are equipped to quit or avoid it, you might be looking for resources to keep you on track and involved in ending smoking.

  • Asian Smokers’ Quitline– Find resources in four different languages, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, and Vietnamese, including self-help materials, telephone counseling, and more.
  • E-Cigarette Visual Dictionary– Peruse this visual dictionary to see more detailed explanations of what an e-cigarette is, how it has evolved, and how it works.
  • EndVaping.org– Find community support resources and gain access to other state, national, and global initiatives and advocacy groups.
  • Know the Risks– Discover how to help prevent youth smoking before it becomes a problem: resources for parents, health care providers, teachers, and more.
  • Stress Management Techniques– If you’re looking for an alternative means of de-stressing, see Harvard’s list and explanation of relaxation techniques to reduce overall stress.
  • This is Quitting– This is a free and anonymous text messaging program designed to help young people quit vaping or avoid smoking in the first place.
  • Tips for Friends and Family of Quitters– If you’re at a loss for how to help a loved one hooked on vaping/smoking, check out these tips.
  • Tips for Teens: The Truth About E-Cigarettes (Spanish)– Hechos y consejos sobre los cigarillos electrónicos para adolescentes, incluso recursos y respuestas a tus preguntas. / Facts and advice about electronic cigarettes for young people, including resources and answers to your questions.
  • Truth Initiative– A nationwide organization dedicated to ending youth smoking culture and helping those with addiction overcome it.
  • Undo– Help end smoking by contacting lawmakers about making stricter tobacco laws to protect you and the people you care about.