What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You: Exploring the Relationship Between Queen’s Students and e-cigarette Usage

Taylor Johnson, Queen’s University

Nearly everywhere you look around campus, someone is vaping. It happens in residence, in the library, and even in class. Why? Well simply put, teen vaping is on the rise. According to the American Food and Drug Administration, high school e-cigarette use has skyrocketed nearly 80 per cent, with 1.3 million more high school vapers in 2018 than in 2017.

To understand Queen’s students and their relationship with e-cigarettes, I conducted interviews and surveys regarding the key drivers behind e-cigarette use and the health effects associated. The goal of my research was to determine if the Queen’s community is concerned with the growing epidemic and if they are aware of all the information out there.

First, let’s talk about the health effects surrounding e-cigarettes. In recent history, nicotine has been widely publicized as an extremely addictive drug. Unsurprisingly, 94 per cent of Queen’s students I surveyed were aware of the fact that nicotine is especially addictive to the adolescent brain. That being said, I was alarmed to learn that only 55.1 per cent of students recognized that there have been no long-term studies on the health effects of vaping. One student I talked to was especially wary of this and said, “My grandmother always tells me not to vape because she grew up in the era of cigarettes and, similar to today, nobody knew the health effects associated. It’s just crazy”. Proverbially speaking, it is apparent that a teenager’s ignorance leads to bliss.

“My grandmother always tells me not to vape because she grew up in the era of cigarettes and, similar to today, nobody knew the health effects associated. It’s just crazy.”


After students selected the health effects they were familiar with, I posed the question if they would continue to use e-cigarettes after reading the list of adverse health outcomes. It was shocking to uncover that 81 per cent of those surveyed said they would continue. But why? What is it that drives teens to use devices that were originally meant to wean off those addicted to smoking in the first place? I asked that next.

As reported by the BBC, the two most significant drivers for regular e-cigarette users revolve around smoking: vaping is less harmful than cigarettes and helps people cut down. Students are not like the regular e-cigarette community. Many of us never started smoking, and henceforth do not use these devices to quit. Instead, Queen’s students are driven to use e-cigarettes because of their desire to be a part of social activity, and sadly, nicotine addiction. Another student I spoke to who had experience in the e-cigarette industry described these drivers as a chain, “Many start vaping as a social activity, but it quickly becomes an addiction, and the variety of flavours makes it difficult to resent your addiction. You don’t focus on your addiction if you’re presented with a new flavour, instead, you just want to try it.”

Despite the growing epidemic, many people are opening their eyes to the dangers of nicotine. In fact, 72 per cent of students admitted that they are concerned for those addicted to e-cigarettes. Personally, I thought this number would be much lower. Nonetheless, at the end of the day it is easy for people to say they are concerned for others since they are really concerned for themselves.


photo attribution: Sarah Johnson


Hoffman, Jan. “Study Shows Big Rise in Teen Vaping This Year.” The New York Times. 17 December 2018.

Jones, Lora. “Vaping – the rise in five charts.” BBC News. 31 May 2018.

Nedelman, Michael. “Teen vaping up 80%; FDA proposes new rules.” CNN News. 15 November 2018.