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Electronic cigarettes blowing smoke through policy holes

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It looks like a cigarette but that’s not smoke it’s blowing – it’s vapor.

Electronic cigarettes are increasing in popularity as a safer smoking alternative, however the smokeless, tobacco-free product is hard to classify. Across the country businesses, municipalities and college campuses are scrambling to decide where they stand on electronic cigarettes.

Oklahoma Christian University currently does not have a policy in place on electronic cigarettes.

“A lot of us have been discussing this semester back and forth about if we need a policy to say yes or no,” Neil Arter, vice president and dean of student life, said. “It’s coming down that it looks like most of us need to have that policy, but we don’t have that in place yet.”

Arter said that policy could be coming in January. What exactly the policy will say is tricky.

Oklahoma Christian is a smoke-free campus; yet electronic cigarettes emit a vapor, not smoke. Some people have claimed the electronic cigarettes have helped them quit smoking tobacco products.

“If it can help someone stop what they’re doing and hurting themselves – I’m kind of for that,” Arter said. “That’s probably the reason why we haven’t acted any more boldly so far. We’re trying to learn a little bit more before we jump in there.”

How safe or harmful electronic cigarettes are is unknown.

“There are not really any research studies out there,” Kay Elder, assistant professor of nursing, said. “The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention as of September this year said that electronic cigarettes should be treated with caution.”

According to Elder, electronic cigarettes may be effective as a smoking reduction technique, like nicotine gum or patches, but there is not enough research out there yet to confirm.

“The American Association of Public Health Physicians views e-cigarettes as similar to other nicotine replacement therapy,” Elder said. “Almost everyone coming from a health background is looking at it as perhaps a smoking reduction, but still a nicotine-containing item.”

From the health aspect, electronic cigarettes are seen as either a negative item or one that must be used with caution, Elder said.

Sarah Philbin, a senior nursing major, said electronic cigarettes could be trading one addiction for another.

“I think any kind of addiction could be bad,” Philbin said. “An electronic cigarette could be just a new invention for a new addiction. But if it is legitimately helping someone stop smoking then it could be a good thing.”

Electronic cigarettes are not yet federally regulated like tobacco products.

The University of Central Oklahoma already has a ban in place. The University of Oklahoma bans electronic cigarettes at least inside campus buildings.

Many businesses in the Oklahoma City area are considering prohibiting them as well. The Warren Theatre in Moore has banned them from their property due to the possible distracting aspect to other moviegoers.

Arter said electronic cigarette use on campus could be just as distracting as traditional tobacco products.

“They’re not exactly odorless,” Arter said. “I have learned that it’s not quite as uneventful as said to be. A lot of public places are pointing towards not having them be used in public.”

Although electronic cigarettes are tobacco-free, they still mimic smoking, which could set a bad example.

“It would give a negative image because it would be showing disregard to the rules that have been put in place for the school,” Philbin said. “It would be disrespectful of the students to do that.”

Philbin said she would be in favor of a ban.

“It doesn’t seem like a positive contribution to anything,” Philbin said of students smoking electronic cigarettes. “It seems like it’s something that has potential harmful effects, but no good benefits.”

Elder also recommended prohibiting electronic cigarettes. She said there isn’t much evidence yet, but Oklahoma Christian should hold higher standards.

“People look at us as examples,” Elder said. “Even if it were allowable for our students [to smoke electronic cigarettes] – I’m not sure it would send a positive, healthy message to the visiting children and youth we have on campus.”

Arter said the school would be open on the issue and look at all information when forming the policy.


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