Image: Wikimedia Commons / TBEC Review

Sneaky puffs: Warwick’s not-so-new obsession with vaping

It may not be a new phenomenon, but vaping has slowly tiptoed into students’ lives across the UK and solidified its status as a night-out staple in many students’ social lives.

Following the Daily Telegraph’s announcement that the UK government will ban disposable vapes across the country, The Boar figured it would be fitting to carry out an investigation into Warwick’s vape culture.

For a fiver, students can purchase bright and fruity e-cigarettes and even go as far as to accessorise coloured vapes so that they match their outfits. According to The Independent, 27% of students have used Elf Bars. These are the strongest vapes in the market, containing a nicotine dosage worth that of 48 cigarettes. Data also suggests that the proportion of students using Elf Bars who have never previously smoked is higher than previously thought, debunking myths that vapes are most commonly used to wean smokers off tobacco cigarettes.  

If I’m inside a club and I want some water but the queue is too long, I’ll look for a vape instead

– Third year Management student

Many of the students whom The Boar interviewed said that it was “easier” and more “convenient” to smoke vapes on a night out because they didn’t need to go outside, unlike lighting up a cigarette for example. Taking “vape hits” inside a bar or club is seemingly less conspicuous, and apparently “more flavourful”. 

Interestingly enough, a lot of students we spoke to made the switch from cigarettes to vapes because they “didn’t like the smell of tobacco on their fingers”, “couldn’t be bothered to roll”, and “spent less money buying vapes than packs of cigarettes”. A more extensive investigation could possibly reveal that the cost-of-living crisis has channelled more smokers into the vaping lane.   

In a statistical analysis conducted by The Boar through our social media channels, we found that 60% of our respondents have at one time vaped, whilst only 22% actually own their own vape. When asked if “vaping was a casual habit on a night out”, 58% of students responded ‘No’. This bucks the assumption that vapes are simply accessories on nights out.  

Keen on speaking to Warwick students in person about their vaping experiences, I conducted what you could call “hands-on research” and decided to interview a range of students, from non-smokers to illegal vape importers.  

Whilst in the smoking area of Smack a club well-known to both Leamington locals and students alike I ask whether “anyone has a light”, and soon enough, a third-year Management student from France lends me hers.  

My pineapple vape gives me one of my five a day

– Anonymous student

She says: “I always carry a lighter with me, even if I don’t have tobacco or papers, because it starts conversations. There’s a high demand for lighters at Warwick apparently.” She gestures to her friend across the smoking area, and I am subsequently introduced to a second-year Mathematics student who doesn’t smoke.  

Both of them discuss how seeing other students vaping made them realise “just how stupid it looks”, and how “it’s more cost-efficient to buy a bag of tobacco nowadays”. They hardly know anyone who buys packs of cigarettes anymore.  

They add: “We know people who used to smoke cigarettes that switched to vapes, but I think that was mostly due to being able to smoke inside, and the types of flavours you can get for a fiver.”  

One of them finishes her cigarette and notes: “But, sometimes if I’m inside a club, and I want some water, but the queue is too long, I’ll look for a vape instead.”    

This raises the question: if bars and clubs cracked down on surreptitious indoor vaping, would it discourage students from continuing to smoke?   

It is estimated that five million vapes are thrown away each week

– Material Focus

Furthermore, a recent UK government announcement stated that it would institute a nationwide ban follows warnings from a number of leading doctors about increased below-18 vape usage, alongside a consultation by the UK Department of Health and Social Care.  

Rises in underage vape consumption are partially a product of the e-cigarette industry’s marketing strategies. Before March 2023, you could buy free e-liquid samples online, regardless of your age. Furthermore, most major e-liquid companies have dedicated sites advertising sample packs allowing you to “pick your favourite flavour”.  

Responding to this, in May 2023, the UK Government announced a law closing the loophole that allows stores to sell free samples of e-liquids to under 18s, as well as investing three million pounds into an “illicit vaping squad”. 

The new law cracks down on the marketing and sale of illegal vapes, especially targeting brands that appeal to young people through the use of colourful and flavour-focused branding. They are widely accused of trying to create a new generation of nicotine addicts.  

Besides the very obvious health concerns surrounding vaping, student climate activists have drawn attention to the issue of disposable wastage across the UK it is estimated that 1.3 million vapes are thrown away every week. At the University of Dundee, students have campaigned for a ban on the usage of vapes, citing increased levels of litter on their streets.  

2% is the legal nicotine limit for e-cigarettes sold in the UK, but I’ve spoken to students at Warwick who have found loopholes in UK vaping laws, allowing them to import e-cigarettes that have a higher nicotine percentage than the legal 2%. Whilst they declined to name the source, two third-year Management students commented on how legal loopholes allow suppliers to ship 5% nicotine e-cigarettes to the UK, and that they’ve been “using [them] for years”.  

One of them described his reason for buying higher percentage nicotine vapes as “getting more bang for your buck – If I smoked elfbars, I’d be spending 30 pounds a week. Now, I spend less than that a month.”   

Are vaping habits the symptom of a broader student mental health crisis?

It appears that there is even a word-of-mouth market for increased nicotine vapes, as one of the respondents detailed how he used to meet someone on campus who would ship in “super big vapes with 5% liquid.” He joked that his pineapple-flavoured vape gave him “one of my five a day”.  

Whether it’s specially imported vapes or the common corner shop purchase, more and more students have turned to vaping as a form of nicotine consumption. Shouldn’t we be focusing on why students feel the need to turn to smoking instead of pointing to scientific evidence as a way of discouraging them from doing so? Most rational people know the effects of long-term smoking, so why do they still choose to continue? Do they simply not care?   

Or does it point to a larger problem, where vaping habits are potentially a broader symptom of a mental health crisis? Many of the students I spoke to described how they took “multiple smoke breaks a day” and had tried to quit but returned to smoking because it “alleviated stress”. This does not reflect the lived experiences of all smokers at Warwick, but it did seem to reflect those of students who picked up the habit during exam season.  

 Raising the price of vapes won’t discourage students either. The survey conducted by The Boar found that people would be willing to pay more than £5 for vapes if they had to because it’s still “cheaper than cigarettes”. So as long as prices stay consistent, a multitude of flavours still exists, and the root causes of nicotine dependency aren’t resolved, Warwick will continue to be a vaping playground.  


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