Everyone has seen the “this is a tobacco free campus” signs littered across the doors and buildings of MSU. Yet, at times it feels like there are students smoking on every corner. In some senses, there are. While MSU has a tobacco free campus policy, there are certain public property areas that have been cordoned off for smoking. Since most students are over 18, it is legal for them to purchase tobacco products and they have the right to smoke in public areas that allow it. Secondhand smoke is typically enough to keep non-smokers from gathering in those areas but in coming years, that may not be true. With the introduction of electronic cigarettes or “e-cigarettes” in 2007, the social stigma against smoking has lessened. These are marketed to help smokers quit and come in a variety of flavors, deliciously packaged to look like the next big candy item. Because they produce only vapor, the only smell is that of the flavoring. The cartridges come in a variety of nicotine concentrations to help wean smokers off the addictive substance. Despite these advertised benefits, the introduction of e-cigarettes has created tremendous backlash.
One of the reasons e-cigarettes are so hotly debated is their newness. Because of that, they can be marketed as a quit-aid without any actual verification and lack licensure by the FDA. They are not regulated by the federal government which means technically, there is no age restriction on buying one. While most stores will not sell to someone under 18, a six-year old could reasonably demand to purchase an e-cigarette. The lack of federal control extends to the cartridges. Anyone and their dog could make these and sell them commercially to the general public. There is no quality assurance check, meaning the buyer has no idea what is going into the product and eventually into their body.
This represents a considerable health hazard, one that should worry e-cigarette users. If the chemicals in the cartridge react poorly with alcohol already in someone’s system, the repercussions are unpredictable and potentially dangerous. While cigarettes contain over 60 carcinogens, e-cigarettes deliver nicotine in a liquid form. Exposure to liquid nicotine can result in a visit to the local poison center. All across the nation, poison centers have noticed a marked increase in calls about e-cigarette exposure, some resulting in ER visits. Students analyze the food that goes into their bodies, counting calories and double-checking ingredient lists and one should do the same with highly concentrated, potentially lethal chemicals.
Because e-cigarettes are so new, the long-term health effects have yet to be determined. Over 2,000 studies were published on e-cigarettes in the past year in a desperate attempt to play catch-up, but it takes time to process and validate those results. For now, the police department as well as the university err on the side of caution. E-cigarettes fall under the category of smoke-producing products and are therefore a violation of campus policy. It is possible that this could be changed if research validates claims that e-cigarettes are beneficial, but that could be over ten years in the future. Because of the newness of the product, they lack any definitive proof positively or negatively promoting them. For now, students on campus must respect current policy, not only because it is required but also because it is the safest option.
One must ask why e-cigarettes are so popular since they aren’t legally considered a quit-aide. Cigarettes are dramatically cheaper than e-cigarettes and college students are notoriously short on cash. What would induce them to pay more money? The answer is that vaporizers can be used to smoke marijuana. This makes smoking marijuana or “vaping” easy, convenient, and far less noticeable. It is also in direct violation of state and federal drug laws as well as campus policy. Last year was the first time that marijuana use reports surpassed tobacco use on campus. The introduction of e-cigarettes into the equation presents challenges to local law enforcement and the safety of the students. When one uses tobacco in conjunction with alcohol, the effects are far less drastic than being “twisted” or drunk and high on marijuana simultaneously. When students become a threat to personal safety or the safety of others, it is critical to involve the police. There is a difference between giggling ridiculously while high and physically lashing out in a way that causes injury. E-cigarettes make the dangerous aspects of being “crossed” more likely because they allow convenient access to marijuana. It is far less conspicuous to exhale a little vapor that quickly dissipates than to pull out a bong and smoke on a street corner. Access is a critical component of frequently abused substances. E-cigarettes put illegal activity further into the realm of feasibility. The university has combatted this new threat with 42 tobacco conduct violations as well as 88 residence hall tobacco violations since July 2014.
The introduction of the e-cigarette into college society has had a destructive impact. The university has taken a firm stance against it, but university officials only see so much. The primary problem comes from students who, in willful ignorance, put their bodies and minds at risk. Understanding the reality of e-cigarettes as well as the consequences incurred should be a thought before blindly using the latest toy. Students are paying thousands of dollars in tuition to access resources to grow their intellect yet run towards dangerous new trends with reckless abandon. A moment’s pause should be taken to consider why one would use this particular product when it is a flagrant violation of university policy and such a detriment to one’s health. Are e-cigarettes really fulfilling all the promises made or are they yet another hazardous attempt to find the “perfect” high?