Spit for Science Research Roundup #5


Spit for Science is a VCU-wide research project that aims to understand how genes and the environment come together to influence substance use and emotional health. Students can join the project by enrolling in the Spit for Science undergraduate research class and completing their own spinoff projects. Undergrads can also work as research assistants who help with recruitment and data collection, meet different faculty involved in the project and work in teams to develop research questions and analyze Spit for Science data. For more information about how to support and get involved in Spit for Science, visit spit4science.vcu.edu.

Below are reflections from two undergraduate students in the Spit for Science research course on the March COBE Connect lunch lecture with e-cigarette researcher Tory Spindle.

What Is Going On With Vaping?
by Rachel Fallavollita

On February 28th COBE Connect hosted Tory Spindle to explain the research he has been doing on electronic cigarettes. Spindle is a doctoral candidate at VCU Health Psychology and Center for the Study of Tobacco Products.  The research Spindle has been focusing on is what e-cigarettes do and who is using them at VCU. The report starts off with the common components that make up an e-cigarette, a power source, an electrical heating element, and a liquid storage compartment. Spindles goes on to explain there are various e-cigarette devices and models, ranging in customization and price, but they all contain those three components.

With the audience all on the same page Spindle talks about the research he has been doing at VCU. The lab methods that were used was recruiting experience users of e-cigarettes, asking them to use their vape, and while doing so the researchers measure physiological effects such as, nicotine levels in the blood, heart rate, blood pressure, and also measure puffing behaviors. While looking at the puffing behaviors focus was put on the size and volume of the puffs. The participants were also asked questions on what they liked and disliked about the products, and if they used the product long-term.

The findings were e-cigarettes usually deliver similar levels of nicotine  as tobacco cigarettes. This was shown through two types of puffs the researchers asked the participants to do. The first type the participants took 10 puffs in 5 minutes over 30 seconds, the second type the participants were recorded for 90 minutes, as they watched a movie or were entertained during the time, and the researchers recorded how many times the participant took a puff. It was also noted that e-cigarettes vary considerably, considering the different models and the amount of customization that could be done. It was concluded the variability in the product influenced puffing behaviors.

Further details on the various characteristics was discussed. One such characteristic is the liquid used in the devices. A user of e-cigarettes can purchase liquids with different concentrations of nicotine, although unfortunately vaporizers have not been well regulated and purchases of liquid online does not give a reliable amount of the nicotine.  Another variable is the base of the liquid, which is either propylene glycol (PG) or vegetable glycerin (VG). it was found that VG delivers more nicotine to the user.

For future direction on studying e-cigarettes and nicotine levels, Spindle suggests experimenting with other devices and liquid factors, such as customization in the battery. Another suggestion is researching e-cigarettes and illicit drug use, especially considering the growing legalization of marijuana.

The next part of Spindle’s presentation was who was using them at VCU. To gather such information Spindle teamed with Spit4Science. Spindle sets up this section with information that 25% of high school students use some form of tobacco ( when questioned they had at least used a tobacco product in the last 30 days). Also a trend has been seen over the last 5 year, an increase in e-cigarettes use and a decline in the tradition tobacco cigarette. Spindle liked to put it as the “changing of the guard”. There also has been a growing trend in non-smoking adults being e-cigarette users. There are multiple concerns for this, one being nicotine can have a negative impact on brain development, the long-term use of e-cigarettes is unknown, and the device could serve as a starter to other tobacco products.

With this information given to the audience Spindle presented the research questions. First, were non-smokers who used e-cigarettes more likely to try traditional cigarettes? Second, could the use of tobacco cigarettes lead to e-cigarettes use? The sample used was of 2,163 students, with information gathered from the initial Fall S4S survey and the followup Spring survey. The results showed that if a student ever used an e-cigarette they were significantly more likely to try traditional cigarettes and were a current cigarette user. Results also showed current cigarette users were significantly more likely to try e-cigarettes and be a current user. Surprisingly to the researchers depression at the first survey did not show significance in use during the second survey. What the researchers found was the only significant indicator of use was stressful life events. Factors that predicted the onset of e-cigarette use were ever using an e-cigarette, tried marijuana, and male. Males were also more likely to become a dual user, using both traditional and e-cigarettes, from the time of the first survey to the second.

To summarize the research, during the first survey students who had never smoked or not currently using e-cigarettes had an increased probability of having tried cigarettes by the second survey. Also found was the initiation of  e-cigarette  use was not largely influenced by internalizing (depression, anxiety), or externalizing factors (impulsiveness), which are typically predictive of traditional cigarette use. To conclude, e-cigarette use increased the chances of non-smokers to try tobacco products.

Spindle closed the presentation with future directions he would like to see the research go. Spindles would like research to look into the use of e-cigarettes in unorthodox ways, such as competitions, and illicit drug use. Another direction is researching why people are using the products, to quit smoking? For the yummy flavors? Influence of friends? Ad influence?

The presentation Tory Spindle gave informed the audience on the popular e-cigarettes which can be seen on VCU’s campus, and other campus across the world. Next time I see another cloud of strawberry scented smoke walking through the Compass, I will think back on the research Spindle presented.

COBE Connect: E-Cigarettes and the Risk Factors Behind Usage
by Thomas Raymond

On February 28th, I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Tory Spindle on e-cigarettes at COBE Connect. Spindle began the talk with background information on e-cigarettes, including components and types. Differences in e-cigarettes include battery voltage and disposability among other features. From here, Spindle moved on to discussing his own research. Spindles’ lab seeks to understand the differences between nicotine delivery efficiency by e-cigarettes vs. old fashioned cigarettes. This is done by monitoring nicotine levels in the blood over a set amount of time while participants smoke.

Spindle then discussed the future of smoking with e-cigarettes and why people may use them. Some see e-cigarettes as a safer nicotine delivery system due to the lack of chemicals used in cigarettes. These users usually point out that the vapors used are water vapors, which ignores the other chemicals in the solution. Additionally, due to the many different vapor flavors available, users won’t just be smoking tar flavored cigarettes. Users can chose from flavors such as mint or a variety of fruits, similar to hookah. In addition to flavors many are drawn to the idea of “vaping,” and there are actually competitions in which people attempt to blow the largest cloud of vapor.

From the introduction to e-cigarettes and his own lab research Spindle moved on to discussing his ties with Spit4Science. A year-long longitudinal study was done using data from the study seeking to understand links between e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes in addition to looking at risk factors for smoking e-cigarettes. The study found that those who smoked e-cigarettes were likely to go on to try cigarettes. This was deduced by looking at those who had smoked e-cigarettes in the fall, but had never smoked traditional cigarettes. By the spring, that group of people was more likely to have tried cigarettes than those who did smoked neither in the fall survey. These findings can help in designing campaigns to discourage cigarette usage aimed specifically at e-cigarette users.