Closeup of vapor being exhaled, illuminated by a sunset in an urban environment. People walk in the background, out-of-focus.

New research by investigators at the UAB School of Public Health reveals that the type of vaping device used by UAB students varies significantly by sex. The study, Sex Differences in Electronic Cigarette Device Use Among College Students, found that among students enrolled at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, 15.5% reported current exclusive e-cigarette use (or vaping). Among those who vape, more females reported the use of disposable e-cigarettes or pod-type devices like Juuls, whereas males reported the use of ‘Tanks’ and ‘Mod’ type devices, in addition to other rechargeable e-cigarettes. Data for this study were collected from October 1, 2020 - January 30, 2022 via an online survey analyzing 394 UAB students 18-24 years old.

M. J. Ruzmyn Vilcassim, PhD, Principal Investigator on the study describes that vaping among college students remains at a high level, a behavior he attributes to the promotion of vaping as a “safer” alternative to cigarette smoking. “While vaping might expose the user to lesser toxins compared to conventional cigarette smoke, they are not objectively safe,” Vilcassim says. “E-cigarette devices contain newer chemicals, including flavorings and oils that are added to the e-liquid which is then vaporized. Studies have shown that inhaling these chemicals via e-cigarette vapor can cause harm and increase airway inflammation.”

Vilcassim describes that when younger individuals, such as teens and young adults, inhale these products, risks are higher for a few reasons. First, because younger lungs are still developing and have delicate structures, second, because e-cigarettes may contain nicotine in more potent forms, third, because these chemicals are highly addictive, and fourth, because vaping may be an entry product to using cigarettes and other tobacco products later in life.

“The difference in the primary device type used by female and male students is important because it affects (a) the amount of nicotine and other chemicals inhaled, and (b) patterns and frequency of use,” said Vilcassim. “Furthermore, results demonstrate how marketing of different vaping products has influenced youth preference. Future researchers should consider these differences in vaping device types between sexes when assessing the health effects associated with vaping to account for the differences in exposures and doses delivered by device type.”

Two additional efforts to evaluate the effects of vaping are currently underway, including one project that will assess the effects of vaping during pregnancy in partnership with researchers at the UAB Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the UAB Heersink School of Medicine, and a second in partnership with the UAB Lung Health Center that will evaluate the respiratory effects of primary and secondhand vaping. Through his research, Vilcassim hopes to continue increasing awareness about the dangers of e-cigarettes and by educating both students and the public of their risks.

Additional UAB researchers with Vilcassim are Kristina Zierold, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences; Matthew Fifolt, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Organization; Samuel Stowe, Ph.D. candidate at the UAB School of Public Health; and Diya Jacob, UAB School of Health Professions student. During the time this survey was conducted, Samuel Stowe was a Master’s candidate in the Accelerated Bachelor's to Master of Public Health Program and Diya Jacob was a volunteer research student in the UAB School of Public Health.

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