Texas College Tobacco Project to increase 'vaping' awareness

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News Reporter
Christian Ray tests inventory samples Feb. 27 at Vape Shop in San Marcos.

Texas State students are exploring professional marketing techniques as part of the Texas College Tobacco Project to increase awareness of electronic cigarette usage.  

The Texas College Tobacco Project is a campaign from the University of Texas at Austin designed to reduce tobacco usage among students. Students across Texas volunteer to campaign at their universities. The student volunteers hang posters, yard signs and banners designed to provide information about tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. The displays will be completed by spring break.

Texas State’s current campaign emphasizes the need for e-cigarette education, including further policy stances by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“We’re predominantly going to focus on vaping because a lot of students don’t realize that vaping is still considered a tobacco product,” said Julie Eckert, assistant director of Health Promotion Services. “(E-cigarettes are) not approved by the FDA, and it’s also within the policy.”

The program aims to increase education on how products are marketed in order to determine why e-cigarettes are popular, Eckert said. Students will use a smartphone app to collect tobacco-marketing data.

“We’re using a phone application (project officials have) created and provided for us to go into retailers that sell tobacco and do a scan of how they’re advertising it, how they’re marketing it, how much it costs and how many retailers have (specific marketing tactics),” Eckert said.

Jemm Corona-Morris, graduate student and project volunteer, said the app is a condensed version of a comprehensive survey UT used in the past for tobacco market research. The collected data will be used to analyze marketing techniques tobacco retailers around universities use to attract 18- to 24-year-olds.

Eckert said the goal of the program is for participants to learn more about tobacco marketing, but health is another focus. Part of the campaign is dedicated to correcting students’ misconceptions about smoking.

“I think a lot of students don’t realize that even social smoking, like, ‘I smoke when I drink,’ that’s not the same thing,” Eckert said. “People are social smokers, and that’s still smoking, and even though it’s not habitual now, it could be, and it still has health effects.”

Eckert said the FDA and other institutions should conduct more studies on the effects of e-cigarettes.

Lisa Ray, owner of Vape Shop, said there is a lack of information about e-cigarettes.

“There haven’t been a lot of conclusive studies done over time because the vaping industry is so new,” Ray said.

Ray wants to cooperate with Texas State officials to educate the public about e-cigarettes, but the lack of information has prevented her from partnering with the university.

“I can’t go to the university and tell them—or anyone else for that matter—that (e-cigarettes are) 100 percent safe because we don’t know that’s true,” Ray said.

Little information exists on what e-cigarettes are and how they work. Ray said the public can get confused on how the devices compare to conventional cigarettes.

“These aren’t tobacco, and it’s not smoke that is being emitted from the electronic cigarettes,” Ray said. “Those are the two biggest (misconceptions) about it—is that people think you’re smoking, and they have concerns about secondhand smoke.”

Ray said cigarettes have over 7,000 chemicals in them, whereas the e-liquid she manufactures independently has four.

“We know what goes into it,” Ray said. “We don’t add anything to it.”

Ray believes educating the public about the difference between e-cigarettes and traditional tobacco products is important.

She said customers have noticed benefits after switching to e-cigarettes.

“A lot of people feel so much better, breathe better and walk places they couldn’t before,” Ray said. “It’s not like one or two. We’re talking hundreds of people. There has to be something to that.”