The Collegian
Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Harmless habit or cancer-causing carcinogen? Debates over e-cigarettes explode online after study suggests adverse health effects

A storm of tweets flooded Twitter yesterday and today claiming Juuls, a type of electronic cigarettes, are causing waves of lung cancer in young people.

“Welp people, they have been diagnosing lung cancer connected w juuls,” @neag17 tweeted. “A few of my sisters friends have been diagnosed and one has never smoked a cig or weed a day in his life but has been addicted to juul’s for around a year now.”

At the University of Richmond, senior Emma O’Brien heard from a friend that three people from her hometown had been diagnosed with lung cancer. 

“Her good friends from school hadn’t smoked cigarettes before, or smoked anything before and they didn’t exactly know why it happened,” O’Brien said. “But, the connection between all of them was that they had been consistently smoking their Juul — like can’t go a couple of hours without it — for over a year.”

O'Brien said she quickly alerted her friends at UR.

Later the same day, another one of O'Brien's friends from her home sent a screenshot of a Facebook post sharing the story of a different student who had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

To find out if this was a rumor, O’Brien’s friend reached out to the man who had made the post, who said it was true, but that he didn't know if the cancer was connected to the Juul, O'Brien said.

O'Brien's friends were concerned that the "cancer scare" was a scam purely because of how fast the news spread, she said. But O'Brien disagreed.

“If people have been addicted for over a year then the timing could make sense for something like this to happen," O'Brien said.

Not only were there claims on social media and via text, but the Washington Square News, New York University’s independent student newspaper, reported yesterday that an NYU School of Medicine study found evidence to suggest a link between e-cigarette smoking and increased risk of heart disease and cancer.

“The study exposed laboratory mice to electronic cigarette vapor for 12 weeks," the article said. “The dose and duration of nicotine exposure in the study, however, was equivalent to 10 years of light e-cigarette smoking in humans. The researchers used their tests to conclude that e-cigarettes can cause DNA damage and may reduce repair activity in the lungs, bladder and heart — all of which could increase the risk of cancer and heart diseases in smoker.”

Although the test concluded that e-cigarettes can cause this damage, Alexander Miller, a surgical oncologist, said it was probably too early to tell for sure.

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“Cigarettes don’t give you lung cancer in a year," Miller said. “That would be very odd unless there’s something else. It’s possible it may release a higher concentration of something, or there some mechanism that causes more damage and lung cancer, but not in a year."

But, Miller noted that the findings in the original study warrant concern.

Moon-Shong Tang, who ran the study, said the issue needed to be further investigated because so many e-cigarette users are young people who use them to try to fit in.

“Eighteen million people are smoking e-cigarettes, particularly young people,” Tang said. “It’s a new culture.”

This new culture is evident on the University of Richmond’s campus and beyond, students said.

“If such devices are used by adults as part of a plan to quit using traditional tobacco products, they may be helpful,” Lynne P. Deane, medical director at the UR student health center, said in an email. “However, that is rarely the case.”

Deane also said research had shown that teens and young adults who begin using electronic cigarettes thinking they are “safer” move on to the use of regular cigarettes.

“Remember,” Deane said, “nicotine is highly addictive, regardless of the delivery method.”

Luke Garrison, a sophomore and Juul user, said there were many worse things than Juul smoking.

“Personally, I think that if people weren’t juuling, we’d all be smoking cigs,” Garrison said. “Kids are kids and they’re going to try to get that fix one way or another.”

When asked if the rumors regarding the connection between Juul smoking and lung cancer were concerning to him, Garrison appeared concerned yet complacent.

“I don’t see any way that it could be good for you, so I do kind of trust what they have to say,” Garrison said. “But there have also been a few studies in the past that say that they’re not as bad as cigs. It’s not going to be a long-time thing. For the most part I will defend it until I die.”

Contact features writer Sydney Lake at

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