The first thing you notice is the scent, always vanilla or cinnamon. It’s strong. Bottles with labels like “Five Pawns,” “Smax,” and “Cosmic Fog” line the walls from top to bottom. But this is no candle shop. Vapeology has been on Raymond Ave selling e-juices for vapes since August 2014.
“It started with this German scientist whose father was sick and couldn’t take medicine orally or intravenously,” creator of Vapeology Matthew Nathan explained. “He was dying, and the only way he could do it was inhale it. So he created a way so he could vape his medicine.” In a way, vaping hasn’t strayed far from its roots. Now, it has become an alternative to smoking, and it is held up as a possible path to quitting.
“Stop smoking. Start vaping,” is Vapeology’s mission statement. “With traditional cigarettes, you have carcinogens, carbon monoxide, combustion. You have seven thousand chemicals, you have tar, you have all this stuff, and they 100 percent are going to kill you,” Nathan said. “Everyone knows that: if you smoke you’re going to die. It’s just kind of a matter of when.”
Director of Health Services Irena Balawajder, however, contended that the same can be said for vaping. “Recently, inhaled vapors have been linked to problems with pregnancy and with future health. One of the things about e-cigarettes is we don’t know what the consequences are going to be,” she said.
Nathan pushed back on this idea, noting the safer elements of vaping. He said, “With vaping, you have none of that. You have a couple different elements. You have vegetable glyceride, you have propylene glycol, and some juices, and then you have nicotine.”
The delivery system of the nicotine is where the main difference lies between cigarettes and vaping. “Nicotine by itself isn’t necessarily bad for you,” Nathan said. “It’s very similar to caffeine.” With cigarettes, however, the nicotine comes with the detrimental chemicals. “Why it’s not bad for you in this delivery system is because you’re not getting all of those other by-products. All you’re doing is creating a vapor,” Nathan said.
In his hands he holds a vape that he preheats to let out a white vapor. “For instance, here you have an organic form of Japanese cotton, and then you have different types of metals, you can have steel, nickel, kanthal, and you’re not burning anything,” he said. He went through the reaction, “So nothing’s ever on fire. You’re just heating up the metal, which is heating up the cotton, which is heating up the juice, which is creating the vapor.”
The cleaner delivery system is what accounts for its use as a mechanism to help people quit smoking. Nathan explained that it is a gradual process. “The way it’s beneficial is, people come in, they’re smoking a pack a day, that’s 21 milligrams of nicotine, so they’re on a very high dose of nicotine. They’re smoking, burning, inhaling all that crap, and then, when they switch to vaping you can cut your nicotine down to six percent because you’re not fighting through all that crap to get your nicotine. You’re just having a pure delivery system.”
Nathan added, “The idea is to start off at a six and then go down to a three and then go down to a zero. So then you’re just doing it for the flavor and the hobby aspect.”
The importance of quitting smoking is something that has very much been on Vassar’s administration’s radar as well. With the implementation of the smoke-free campus policy starting July of 2015, Vassar is prohibiting smoking on campus. Balawajder along with Assistant Director of Human Resources and Employee Wellness Sarah Bakke were the main forces behind this policy.
Balawajder noted that the tobacco industry has been targeting a younger demographic. “Particularly now, what has become so insidious is that e-cigarettes are being aimed more at slightly younger high school kids,” she said. “That’s one of the main thrusts of a smoke-free, tobacco-free campus is most young people, most students, they’ll use cigarettes socially. They don’t truly become addicted probably until college age. Which is why the benefit of smoke-free tobacco-free campuses is preventing that social habituation to become full-term addiction.”
According to the policy, “‘Smoking’ is consumption, inhaling, exhaling, or burning any type of matter or substance that contains tobacco or plant product intended for inhalation.”
Dean of the College Christopher Roellke explained that Vassar is not the first campus to go smoke and tobacco free. “Vassar is now among well over 1,500 colleges nationwide who have moved to a smoke-free campus. The college worked very closely with the Dutchess County Department of Health to move this policy forward as it is clearly a health and wellness initiative,” he said.
Director of Health Education Renee Pabst explained that this policy has been years in the making. “This started through the Drug Education Committee in 2010 with a proposal on a phase in to go smoke free,” she said. “I think it was a number of factors–the final decision to move towards the smoke-free campus came from Chris Roellke and Cappy though CCL had to have the vote on this. I know they did meet with Dr. Michael Cadwell, who was the Commissioner for the Department of Health in Dutchess County.”
Additionally, Pabst mentioned that it is a step that many campuses in the area are moving towards. “Also, all SUNY schools are moving to smoke free and it seems that it is just a matter of time that colleges will be required to do this,” she said.
“When Vassar was first thinking of going smoke free, it’s been up in the air for a couple of years now, I reached out to them and spoke to the guy in charge of students services,” Nathan said. “I was trying to set up almost a smoking sensation program through Vassar where I was going to have a really affordable start-up kit for students, 15 bucks, and I was going to go there and give some information about what vaping is because you hear a lot of bad stuff about vaping.”
He reheats the vape, inhales and blows out more vapor. “You go in a room with somebody and you see that, you’re conditioned to think that they’re smoking. You’re conditioned to think that that’s going to be bad for you.” He explained, “There’s more parts per million of nicotine in the air in Manhattan than what I just exhaled.”
The way the legislation at Vassar is worded, where you can’t smoke, you can’t vape. Nathan said, “There’s no such thing as second-hand vape. But that’s just what happened at Vassar is they wouldn’t be able to vape.”
While vaping may not be an option to help students quit smoking, Vassar offers their own programs for faculty and students to utilize. Bakke said, “In the past we had offered smoking sensation classes as well as we had a hypnotist come on site and we had some people participate in that. And in the spring, we will be doing the same thing again.”
For Nathan, maybe the association of smoking and vaping isn’t so bad, however. “I don’t think that Vassar’s having a policy of being smoke free is having students not smoke there,” he said. “I really don’t think that would affect my business. If anything, I think it would enhance it.”
He went on, “You can’t smoke these smelly cigarettes that everyone knows you’re smoking. With vaping, it goes away. If students had to stop smoking, they could vape there without it being as noticeable.” Were students to smoke in their dorms, Nathan said, vapor won’t set off a fire alarm. He added, “And if it did, when they got there, they would say hey! It smells like strawberries.”
Amanda Ma ’17, an infrequent smoker, mentioned that she felt the new policy hadn’t changed much on campus since its implementation. “I think because security has gotten more strict on smoking, people are more worried about smoking, so some do it off campus,” she explained.
She went on, “I’m pretty sure that people will smoke in their rooms. But I don’t think the campus has really changed. If people really want to smoke it’s easy enough to do so, I think it just becomes more of an issue of ‘do I want to sit next to a window and blow smoke out a fan, or just chill and smoke outside albeit walk a little further to do so?’”
Pabst mentioned that from an administrative level, Vassar wouldn’t be seeing many changes either. “We have not seen any shift in who is applying and we doubt that will occur due to the number of students who smoke and other campuses who have gone smoke free have not seen any long-term changes in who applies,” she explained.
Smoking is not a huge part of Vassar’s culture as a campus. Pabst said that the numbers reflect this. “The stats suggest that a small minority of students smoke prior to Vassar (about three percent on a daily basis) though that number increases slightly after their time at Vassar to about five to seven percent,” she said. “Also, we have students who are ‘social’ smokers (around 20 percent)–and we know through research that about 50 percent of social smokers will become daily smokers and addicted to nicotine.”
The policy, Pabst explained, is to help protect students’ health not just during but after Vassar as well. She said, “The hope is that we are able to mitigate the number of social smokers and lower the number of students who start smoking at Vassar, so they never struggle with the addiction to nicotine.”
Throughout the country, with the numbers of smokers decreasing and tobacco sales falling, Nathan mentioned that the statistics tend to be focused on vaping. “Now what vaping is, is a billion dollar industry,” Nathan said. “Before that, tobacco just had a stronghold on everything.”
The solution seems to be in the research. Nathan explained, “They’re putting out fake studies, and independent companies are doing studies and finding the complete opposite. An article comes out from Time Magazine that says it’s 60 percent healthier and 40 percent cheaper than smoking, but then another article will come out saying well, it’s actually only 10 percent better and its more expensive and then some scientists in the UK came out with studies that said, ‘well it’s 95 percent better,’ so it’s kind of up in the air if it really is better,” Nathan said.
There is no denying the statistics that Nathan has witnessed himself since Vapeology opened. “There’s probably been close to maybe six or seven thousand people who have maybe stopped smoking successfully,” he explained. “Out of that, a lot of them are still vaping, but they’re at zero nicotine because it becomes a hobby.”
Nathan went on to explain how the product has the potential to sell itself. “People who come in here, they all have their favorite devices and setups and juices and companies. And it’s a younger crowd, and it’s kind of like a camaraderie aspect, since everyone used to smoke, nobody smokes anymore.”
Nathan continued, “If I have a bunch of my regular customers in here and someone comes in like, ‘I’m thinking of trying to stop smoking,’ those people will be like ‘Oh, I’ve stopped smoking,’ and they’ll support them.”
Nathan mentioned that some current customers’ experience quitting smoking through vaping encourages others to participate. “They might say, ‘look, it’s possible, you can actually do this,’ and sometimes they’ll essentially sell it for me since they’re talking about life experience and what’s happened for them,” Nathan said.
He added, “Personally me, I smoked a pack of Newports every day until I started vaping. Being an ex-smoker and a current vaper, I feel substantially better. You can breathe better, there’s a lot of benefits.”
Smoking won’t be ended by a smoke-free campus or a new delivery system for your nicotine. As vaping becomes more understood, maybe the students and the administration can work with the community, where Nathan could better inform everyone of more steps to take towards quitting smoking.