Photo by Tony Pierce

Trojans Continue Unsafe Vaping Habits Despite Recent Warnings

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There’s been a spike in lung-related vaping injuries but for many USC students pleas from health officials to stop the habit are going up in smoke.

Despite the fact that there have been over 800 vaping-related lung injury cases reported in the U.S. and a dozen deaths (including two in California), the vape business was still brisk around the USC campus on a recent Thursday where young people were buying and smoking Juuls and Puff Bars.

Had they not heard the warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week, the criminal probe by the FDA last week, or the recent plea by California health officials to stop vaping immediately? Not only were they acutely informed, but a few of them even mentioned the fact that Juul’s CEO had been replaced by a former executive from Altria, the makers of Marlboro cigarettes.

Still, many Trojans continue to puff.

“I’ll quit when they pull them off the shelves,” Sam, a young man on a skateboard says, refusing to give his name because he doesn’t want his mother back home in Colorado to know he’s still vaping despite her consistent pleas to stop. “But for now I’m still active. I did the risk/reward calculation and I know I can’t do it forever, but for now, yes, I still vape.”

The USC students leaving the Cal Mart Beer & Wine store with newly purchased Juuls were incredibly generous, as they claimed to be buying $21 boxes not for themselves, but for friends. 

Kevin Carlson, a senior from Philadelphia, was one of the few who said he has stopped vaping because of the reported deaths. “I saw on the news that it was nine kids who died, which is pretty detrimental,” he says. “Which doesn’t happen with weed.”

Carlson says he enjoyed the convenience of vaping. He could do it in a restaurant, at the movies, even on an airplane with the proper technique. He says he started with vaping Juuls but switched over to Puffs because they are significantly cheaper. 

By looking at the trash strewn along The Row on 28th Street it appeared that, yes, Puffs was a popular choice among the Greeks at USC. 

A discarded box that once contained a low-priced Puffs vape pen sits on 28th Street near USC. Photo by Tony Pierce.

Siguard Decker sits on a stool, in front of the Pi Kappa Delta House. His long blonde locks flowing in the sunshine and his eyes keenly focused on the sorority house across the street where a Chik-fil-A-themed fundraiser is in full swing. He takes a long drag from his Juul and offers this reporter a toke. 

The warnings from the health organizations has “affected my intake none. But there’s a lot of people I know that have — because of the recent stories coming out — have really cut back or quit.”

The fast-talking Alaskan is not surprised by the recent developments. 

“I think you’d have to be pretty dumb not to assume that the new juices — especially when you get disposable cartridges that get down to the metal coil — to not realize that that’s pretty harmful in some way or another,” he says before locking eyes with a co-ed sporting a fitted white tank top and a jean skirt. He soon makes his way to her side of the Row. 

Although Decker realizes that any smoke he breathes is possibly bad for him, currently he’s a heavy user.

“I go through phases, so right now I’m definitely hitting it a lot, so like 20 times a day,” he says, walking at a quicker pace towards the sorority girl and her sisters, who are all wearing matching tops. “For me it would take a few days to half a week to go through a pod, but I’ve gone through a pod in a day before, working during the summer.”

A steady stream of USC students makes its way in and out of Cal Mart Beer & Wine, often with newly purchased vape pens in their hands despite recent government officials’ warnings of health risks. Photo by Tony Pierce.

Merchants around the campus said they have seen no decline in sales despite the recent health warnings. The only store that did say he has had fewer sales, sold several packs on separate transactions moments after his statement. 

Standing in front of a large wall of cigarettes and vape devices at the AM/PM on Vermont Avenue and Exposition Avenue, Walter Rodriguez says Juul is the store’s most popular smoking item “by far,” but if vaping became illegal, the loss of that business wouldn’t be that noticeable because customers buy so many other things there including gasoline. 

But has he vaped? 

“No,” he says, “I stay away from bad habits.”  

Los Angeleno