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.
Navigating the College Smoking Scene
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.