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Monday, November 19, 2018

Opinion

Students falsely treat e-cigs as an exception to smoking policies


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Izmail Glosson/The Daily Cougar

One in two smokers will die from a disease or illness related to smoking. This means for every two friends, classmates or family members that smoke, one will die because they didn’t or weren’t able to quit smoking.

New York City passed a law on May 18 that raised the minimum age to buy cigarettes to 21. In an effort to decrease smoking due to its negative effects, this bill includes the purchase of e-cigarettes.

This raises the question of whether or not the recent spate of e-cig popularity across our nation — and more locally here on campus — needs to be questioned, especially as concerns rise specifically about the public use of e-cigs.

There are number of euphemisms that exist to describe the act of smoking an e-cig in order to circumvent laws and negative public opinion toward conventional smoking. The most popular term for it right now is “vaping.”

A poll taken of over 200 UH students on thedailycougar.com showed that 31 percent of students were bothered by students smoking outside of designated smoking areas; 10 percent were bothered by other students smoking e-cigs indoors, while 35 percent of students were equally bothered by both of these acts. On the other hand, 24 percent of students were not bothered by either one of these acts.

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Izmail Glosson/The Daily Cougar

With the increasing popularity of vaping by campus students, there needs to be more clarity on policy. In particular, there is some confusion about how e-cigs should be legislated or regulated.

E-cigs often don’t fall under existing smoking policies — although at UH, as of April 2013, they do. However, despite the updated UH policy, there is continual confusion over e-cigs demonstrated through student experiences.

“One professor in particular applauded me for using it, and another threatened grade penalties for their use during class,” said biology senior Simon Powell.

Powell said that he has used e-cigs for four years to reduce the health risks imposed by conventional smoking until he is in a position where he can quit.

Under UH’s Tobacco-Free Campus Policy, e-cigs are categorized as a tobacco product. Included in that category, in addition to conventional cigarettes, are hookahs, chewing tobacco and any nicotine delivery device not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Moreover, the FDA has proposed rules that would potentially ban the sale of e-cigs to minors under the age of 18, regulate their production and require warning labels.

While many individuals are sure to do the research before taking a puff of an e-cig, some people are unaware of the differences between e-cigarettes and ordinary cigarettes. While e-cigs do not contain the more than 4,000 chemicals that conventional cigarettes do — nor the over 70 carcinogens also present — they still contain toxic chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens.

These carcinogens were found when a 2012 study published in the journal “Indoor Air” reported detectable levels of carcinogens and toxins being released when a user exhaled the vapor from the e-cig.

The makeup of e-cigs consist of a battery, atomizer and a cartridge. While e-cigs are often marketed as being superior to cigarettes for their reduced health risks, the “e-liquid” form of nicotine that is vaporized via the atomizer contains 95 percent propylene glycol, a substance found in fog machine fluid and antifreeze, which is used as a solvent in various pharmaceutical drugs. In addition to this, flavorings and nicotine are used in varying quantities.

The average vial of e-liquid contains anywhere from six to 30 milligrams per milliliter concentration of nicotine. This means that a standard 10-mililiter bottle contains between 60 miligrams and 300 miligrams of nicotine.  The Center for Disease Control reports that in humans the lethal dose is estimated to be between 50 and 60 milligrams.

While the data on e-cigs is still largely inconclusive, and many more studies need to be done to ascertain the health benefits and drawbacks, one thing is for certain: e-cigs are changing society’s perception of smoking.

That is not to say that e-cigs do not have their benefits. In a meta-study led by the University of East London, a group of researchers headed by Dr. Lynne Dawkins found that e-cigs do reduce conventional cigarette cravings and are generally used in order to attempt to quit.

While the data on e-cigs is still largely inconclusive, and many more studies need to be done to ascertain the health benefits and drawbacks, one thing is for certain: e-cigs are changing society’s perception of smoking.

For UH students using e-cigs, these smoking-substitutes are defined as a tobacco product, meaning e-cigs are not permitted anywhere outside of the designated smoking areas on campus. Despite this, various students have reported seeing e-cigs being used inside campus buildings such as the library and even within classrooms.

Librarian Lee Andrew Hilyer, head of information and access services at M. D. Anderson Memorial Library, oversees policies relating to public spaces within the library. Hilyer noted how ashtrays that once stood in front of the library were removed to enforce the changes to tobacco policies.  A major concern from the library’s standpoint revolves around the safety of students and the proximity of designated smoking areas.

“It’s a living policy,” Hilyer said.

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Izmail Glosson/The Daily Cougar

Electric engineering sophomore Justin Nguyen is well aware that e-cigs are only allowed in designated smoking areas.

“Designated smoke areas need to be enforced and need to be farther away from entrances,” Nguyen said. “The prevalence of electronic smoking devices among college students is encouraging smoke culture.”

This observation is one that is being echoed by many others. The major concern is whether the belief that e-cigs are relatively harmless candy-flavored toys that should be allowed in public areas is reshaping our perception of smoking into that of a more glamorous and socially tolerated activity.

Whether or not e-cigs are helpful in cessation of smoking or safer than conventional cigarettes, it is still paramount that school officials adhere to, inform about and enforce policies to ensure that students can continue to enjoy and use public spaces without disruption.

Given that there is a known danger to one’s health from the use of tobacco products, it is essential that students use campus resources and the support of their friends in quitting to ensure a longer life and healthier lifestyle.

Opinion columnist Kourosh Zakeri is an optometry graduate student and may be reached at [email protected]

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