Tyler Junior College Nursing student Laila Ahmed sits in her car dragging on her “Pretty in Pink” flavored electronic cigarette (e-cig) before class. A cloud of smoke escapes her lips as she blows out vapor produced by the battery operated device, mirroring the appearance of a traditional cigarette. She knows there is no rule (yet) for the “cigalike” on campus, but she avoids smoking inside the buildings.
“I get why it would be bothersome,” Ahmed said. “ … It still looks like smoke, but people aren’t exactly educated on what it is.”
The popularity of e-cigs may continue to rise, but Smith County Commissioners unanimously voted to ban their use in county buildings on April 15.
Commissioner Jeff Warr said that he was on the fence whether or not to ban the e-cigs in county buildings but felt that complying with other tobacco regulations for the health of residents was a reasonable decision.
“There isn’t a way for us to distinguish if it (e-cigs) has nicotine or not and there are still some findings that it is dangerous for secondhand smoke,” Warr said.
He is referring to a study done by the Oxford Journal in December 2013 that reported secondhand exposure of nicotine is present in the vapor, but lacked combustible toxins (like smoke in tobacco cigarettes). The report ultimately concluded that the use of indoor vaping may expose nonusers to nicotine.
TJC Student Body President Chase Flemming said that the Student Senate was considering a bill to ban e-cigs on campus, weeks before the county voted to ban vaping.
“We’ve had a lot of students and visitors complain about its (e-cig) use on campus which brought us to the idea of banning smoking them inside or on campus,” Flemming said.
Flemming also mentioned that a fire alarm was set off from an e-cig in Ornelas Residence Hall earlier this semester, which was another reason they saw fit to consider the ban.
Traditionally, when Student Senate creates a bill it goes down the line to Faculty Senate for consideration, and then to the Board of Trustees. Flemming said that the bill to ban e-cigs will be going directly to the Board of Trustees in a meeting in early May. Flemming also said he believes it will be in affect Fall 2014, but they can not be certain at this point.
Recently, there has been debate over the liquid, or “juice” to e-cig users, and the effects it can have when exposed to skin, eyes and mouth.
The “juice” contains propylene glycol, a chemical compound found in household products like toothpaste, cosmetics and some medicines and food. Some e-cig users defend the harmful claims by saying it is a Food and Drug Association (FDA) approved solvent. Although this is true, the use for propylene glycol is not approved by the FDA in e-cigs. Last year, the FDA sent out a letter to e-cig companies warning them to not sell or advertise their product as a way to stop smoking since little is known about the long term effects.
“It helps me cut back on cigarettes,” Ahmed said.
On April 24 the FDA made an announcement that they would be attempting to regulate e-cigs. Before, manufacturers weren’t required to disclose a list of the ingredients in the juice or vapor causing uproar of questions from the general public. They are also looking to prohibit sales to anyone under smoking age and add a health warning to e-cigs, warning about potential addition to nicotine (like the warning on tobacco cigarettes). Although it may take years to finalize, these are beginning stages for electronic cigarette regulation.
Flemming said that he applauds those who turn to e-cigs as a way to step away from traditional cigarette smoking and believes this is a good step for a healthy community with healthy individuals.
Warr said he thinks it’s commendable to stop smoking and encourages it, but agrees that the use of smoking devices needed to go hand in hand with current smoking policies as a compliance issue and a way to catch up with new technology.
“The only way to be compliant (with e-cigs) is to establish a regulation, county wide, to ban the use of the e-cigarettes inside county buildings, vehicles and 50 feet from those buildings … like cigarettes or chewing tobacco,” Warr said.
The convenient portrayal of e-cigs makes it seem as something that can be used where paper and tobacco cigarettes can’t.
“The way I see it, the production companies making e-cigs have no authority where people can and can’t use them. Second-hand vapor can be dangerous to people around someone vaping,” Flemming said.
Warr compared vaping inside to loud, personal cell phone use in public.
“If you were in line at the grocery store and someone is talking loudly, it can be annoying … sometimes people aren’t conscience of their surroundings,” Warr said. He also mentioned that places like movie theaters were getting complaints by customers who vaped during the movies, which was seen as a distraction and nuisance to some people in the theater.
Ahmed does believe there should be a consideration for bystanders, saying she would never purposefully blow smoke into a crowd where it would be taken offensively.
“If I go to a concert, I don’t have to step outside and miss the show,” she said.
As of now, only county buildings, vehicles and perimeters are restricted areas to use an e-cig. Warr said that it is up to unincorporated areas, like restaurants and movie theaters, to decide what to do about indoor vapor use.
“Students who use e-cigs will be kind of irritated by it, but as far as recruiting and creating competition between different colleges, a school wide ban seems like the best decision we can make. There are sponsors who come here (TJC), and I can’t see them wanting to give money to an institution that seems unhealthy,” Flemming said.
In Texas, only three cities (San Angelo, San Marcos and Lufkin) banned the use of e-cigarette use in smoke-free venues through local legislation.
Flemming encourages all students to talk with the Student Senate about concerns or questions about the ban. Student Senate is located on the second floor of Rogers Student Center at TJC main campus.