A select cohort of nursing students has been compiling data regarding students vaping on Valparaiso University’s campus and is now sharing their findings with the community. The week of Oct. 17, the students will be visiting athletic events and tabling to spread the word about the dangers of vaping.
Work on this topic began in spring 2019. Each year, the group handpicks sophomore nursing students to join the research group. They receive credit for the project and the goal is that they will stick with it until their graduation.
“It's been like a two and a half to three year project, and that's very typical for this research team as we get interested in a topic and we have to gather data and find out information about what's really happening. Then we can spend time not only collecting that data but then having some type of intervention or plan to educate or to make a difference. They're making a difference on campus by trying to share the information about vaping,” said Theresa Kessler, Nursing Professor and Kreft Endowed Chair for the Advancement of Nursing Science. “That's critical, I think that we as nurses, researchers and those that use evidence based practices, we need to get the word out there from the information, because someone can't know what to do unless they have the information.”
The program offers an opportunity for student collaboration and research that many universities do not provide.
“I kind of call it a student-faculty collaborative team because we really are collaborative, we work together. We guide and give direction, but I also expect them to guide and give direction to what we're doing so I think that makes it very unique. It's unique also in nursing because there aren't that many undergraduate nursing research teams across the United States. I like to have two faculty members do the process because each of us brings something to the table just like each of them brings something to the table, because we always need different perspectives,” Kessler said.
The current research group is composed of seniors Shamus Marr, Alaina Meyer, Lexi Przybylski and Kaylinn Woolever, as well as juniors Asia Janeczek and Estelle Niego. The topic was chosen because of its trendiness and prevalence on campus.
“It was just interesting to be able to get education and research because there's such a lack of that right now. No one really knows [the] long lasting effects or other effects that vaping has,” said Meyer.
Another major draw of vaping comes from the way it is marketed towards younger generations.
“Helping students to realize that they are marketing targets, and these are companies that are trying to get them to buy a product that they know it's not good for them. I think helping students understand that they're vulnerable to the marketing and part of the reason why they're picking up a habit, not realizing the health effects of it long term,” Kessler said.
Data was collected through surveys sent out to the campus community. The survey received a 61% response rate and allowed for further analysis and research. The students found that likelihood of vaping increased as the individual’s GPA decreased, as well as a positive correlation between the Fraternity and Sorority Community and vaping, most notably with fraternity men.
“We also found correlations with GPA and Greek Life as well. The lower their GPA, the higher the vaping prevalence,” said Woolever.
While the long term effects of vaping are unknown due to the newness of the product, students have reported experiencing short term symptoms and withdrawals.
“We're also planning on working with the Health Center at some point because, basically, we want to educate people. It's not just like a cool trend, that there are dangers to it,” Woolever said.
The students noted that many of their peers have a more relaxed viewpoint towards vaping, marijuana use and drinking that reflects in the high rates of usage.
“A lot of people said it was generationally chill. They quoted that our generation, I think, is much more forgiving when it comes to things like vaping, drinking, marijuana use,” said Asia Janeczk. “That kind of emphasizes how kind of lax and laid back it is when it’s actually a very present problem not only on our campus but other colleges, high schools and even middle schools now.”
To share their findings, the group chose Valpo’s Family Weekend in an effort to reach more students as well as educate parents on signs their children may be using substances.
“We just like targeted this week because it's family week so a lot of people are gonna come, parents come, just like tabling and having people, a lot more people walking past to just look,” said Niego. “Because what we're looking into is how this is such a newer trend, using these products and also like the ease of accessibility, just to bring awareness on how easy people can buy the products.”
The cohort also sent statements to state legislators supporting a house bill to ban flavored vapes due to their targeting of adolescents.
“Another thing that we kind of already did was we went to state legislators about the flavors in the vapes to ban them to just tobacco flavor. So that’s something that we already did, we wrote to them about how we’re in agreement [with the house bill],” Meyer said.
With the research on vaping concluded and being shared, the group has now moved onto a new topic, researching student attitudes towards vaccinations.
“We did a survey in May and had really good results looking at COVID vaccination but just other vaccinations in general to kind of get a better idea of the trend and thinking about vaccinations,” Kessler said. “That information has been posted already so that's on the electronic boards in all the buildings across campus and it's been shared with administration.”
In addition to their work on campus and advocating for change with state legislatures, the cohort has partnered with the Indiana Department of Health’s Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Committee as well as the Tobacco Education and Prevention Coalition for Porter County (TEPCPC).
“Carrie Higgins, is the director of that program [TEPCPC] here at the college, and she received grant money and that process goes on for a two year grant period,” Kessler said. “She does work not only for the whole county, but also here on campus and so she actually has several initiatives going on campus.”
The student’s poster and other findings will be posted on the Coalition’s website. Their hope is that their research will help change the mindset towards vaping products.
“[There’s] this sense of invincibility, like, ‘oh nothing bad will happen to me.’ No matter how long a person has vaped, but just like not thinking about the health effects down the road and that's like what one of our goals was to like kind of start looking into that research to see like what effects might be on for the horizon because vaping products are kind of a recent boom in terms of the tobacco products,” Niego said.