Reasons for initiating vaping among college students

Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Title

American Public Health Association 2020 Annual Meeting and Expo

Conference Location



Background: There has been a continuous rise in vaping with the highest prevalence among 18-24 year olds. Studies have shown that vaping is perceived as less harmful compared to smoking either nicotine or cannabis. This study aimed to address a gap in the literature on reasons that college students initiate vaping.

Methods: We conducted an online cross-sectional survey of college students in San Jose, CA (n = 339). All participants were asked to report whether they had ever vaped and whether they had vaped in the past 30 days. Participants who reported vaping in the past 30 days were asked to specify the reasons that they had initiated.

Results: About half the participants reported ever vaping (47.1%) and a quarter had vaped in the past 30 days (23.9%). The most commonly reported substances vaped in the past 30 days were cannabis (34.9%), nicotine (26.7%), and flavor (19.2%); 19.5% of the participants reported vaping more than one substance in the past 30 days. Most participants initiated vaping over the age of 18 (64.8%), with a third starting between the ages of 14 – 18 (31.8%). The most common reasons for initiating vaping were for social reasons (64.8%), for the high (40.8%), for the flavor (32.4%), and for a healthier way to use nicotine (22.5%). Only 4.2% reported initiating vaping to quit combustible cigarettes.

Conclusion: Vaping is perceived to be less harmful than smoking for those with nicotine addiction and vaping is recommended as a tool to quit using combustible cigarettes. This study, however, found most students initiate vaping for social reasons rather than to quit smoking cigarettes. In light of the vaping lung injury epidemic, these findings on the use of multiple substances highlight the need to understand vaping patterns among this at risk population of young people.


Tobacco Use, College Students


Public Health and Recreation