Outside a party last weekend, a few of my friends stood chatting on the porch, each with an electronic cigarette in hand.
As I approached, I was offered a hit off one of them, which I respectfully declined. I’ve smoked more in my life than I’d care to admit, but I have made the choice to remove this poison from my life. As the University of Minnesota and Boynton Health Services work toward a smoke-free campus, they would be wise to follow suit and ban e-cigarettes as well.
For those who were not aware, the University is working to become a smoke-free campus by the fall of 2014. The smoke-free policy would ban tobacco products like cigarettes and cigars, as well as non-smoke forms of tobacco like chewing tobacco and snuff. However, electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigs,” are not mentioned in the plan.
E-cigs are a new alternative to cigarette smoking, which the tobacco companies have deemed “electronic, alternative smoking devices that simulate the sensation of smoking.” They come in a number of different flavors including peach schnapps, piÃ±a colada and waffles. I have sampled several of these, and my lungs and I consistently arrived at the same conclusion: This product is not a healthy alternative to smoking.
The first e-cigs came from the Chinese company Ruyan in 2004. The Food and Drug Administration has yet to evaluate or approve e-cigs for safety or effectiveness in helping smokers quit. Regulations on the smokeless alternative are largely limited to taxes placed upon all forms of tobacco products. Our northern neighbors in Canada, however, have already banned the importation or sale of e-cigarette products containing nicotine.
A nationwide ban on e-cigs sounds extreme and would serve to benefit the tobacco companies as much as anyone. E-cigs need to be held to the same standard as other tobacco products. That is to say, they need to be included in the University’s plan to ban smoking on campus.
Hennepin County banned smoking on all county property in 2011. Although the e-cigs do not violate Minnesota’s Clean Air Act, they were added to the Hennepin County ban earlier this year. The University is lagging behind the local community and three other University campuses on this issue.
The danger in e-cigs is that, while they are smokeless, they still promote nicotine addiction. Nicotine gum and nicotine patches are two safer alternatives that are even less noticeable, less embarrassing and are FDA-approved compared to cigarettes or the electronic alternative.
Another widely known effect of cigarette smoking is the short-term, and potentially long-term, damage they cause to the lungs. This also applies to e-cig smoking, according to a study conducted by the University of Athens last year. Researchers found that, even among the control group of lifetime non-smokers, using an e-cigarette for approximately 10 minutes raised their airway resistance levels by 24 percent. For current smokers, using an e-cig for 10 minutes raised their airway restriction by 44 percent.
I care about the health of my fellow University students, and I hope our student government cares about us as well. If so, they should consider adding e-cigs to the campus ban on smoking in their effort to help students quit smoking and lead healthier lives.