Smoking out the health risks of vaping

This story was originally published in the April 6 print issue.

The rising popularity of electronic cigarettes and vaporizers have exposed an omission in Mason’s smoking policy that allows people to smoke inside, but students and faculty have started to question whether there should be a rule against smoking e-cigarettes and vaping inside and in class.

People’s opinions on vaping, particularly inside and in class, vary widely among students and faculty. Donald Russell, the director of provisions research for the library and the university curator for the School of Art, does not see why students should not be allowed to vape in class once vaping becomes more widely understood and accepted. However, Beth Jannery, a communication professor, said she would never allow a student to vape in class.

“I would love to see the [Mason smoking] policy be no smoking, no vaping, just have it be the same policy. I don’t want to breathe in anybody’s second-air anything, whether it’s smoke or scented vape,” Jannery said.

E-cigarettes and vaping, while similar, are not quite the same thing. USA Today describes e-cigarettes in their “E-cigarettes and vaping: Everything you need to know” article as battery operated inhalers that consist of a rechargeable battery, a cartridge called a cartomizer and an LED that lights up at the end when a person puffs on the device. They also describe vaping as the act of inhaling water vapor through a personal vaporizer, which are often seen as a “healthier” e-cigarette. They continue that when users draw on the device, the battery heats the liquid, which is then atomized into an inhalable vapor.

In 2002, Delaware became the first state to have a comprehensive law banning smoking in restaurants, bars and the workplace, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. Since then, smoking in indoor public places has been almost completely banned all over the U.S., but e-cigarettes and vaping have challenged these bans and universities’ policies on smoking.

Other schools in the D.C. metro area follow a different policy than Mason. As of 2013, George Washington University installed a smoke-free policy that prohibits smoking of all kinds, including vaping and e-cigs, indoors and even in certain outdoor areas. American University has taken it a step further and is a smoke- and tobacco-free campus, including vaping and e-cigs.

Mason’s own smoking policy states, “All residential areas are smoke-free. Smoking is prohibited within all residential buildings including stairways and entrances. Outdoors, smoking is permitted 25 feet or beyond a residential building, unless it is a hazardous area or if otherwise posted. Proper disposal of cigarette butts is required. If you or your guests are found smoking in a prohibited area you will face disciplinary action. The smoking policy does not apply to e-cigarettes.”

The policy does not elaborate on e-cigarettes or vaping, and there does not appear to be another policy specifically for those items. Until there is a vaping and e-cigarettes policy, and if there ever is one, students and faculty can continue to vape and smoke e-cigarettes inside. One student who vapes is senior Ian Bush, a creative and strategic advertising major. Bush said out of respect for people, he will not vape in class, but otherwise sees no reason as to why vaping is bad.

“It produces a slight scent and out of respect for people who don’t feel comfortable around it, I choose not to vape in class, but I’ve had people eat really stinky foods in my classes, and that’s allowed. If someone can give me a valid reason as to why vaping is worse than that I’d listen, but until then I see nothing wrong with it,” Bush said.

Freshman and biology major Linda Alfakir said she thinks vaping inside is “completely unnecessary and inappropriate for the classroom environment.”

Many of vaping and e-cigarette opponents believe that just like a normal cigarette, the second-hand smoke of an e-cigarette or vaporizer is harmful to those around the smoker, or are just unsure if the second-hand smoke is healthy to breathe in.

Jannery said she wants her classroom to be safe, and said, for example, she has a woman who is pregnant in her classroom. She said she would want to know if research has been done or if there have been studies done that prove vaping is harmless before she ever allowed it in her classroom.

Alfakir agreed with Jannery’s need for more information on the effects of second-hand smoke from vaporizers and e-cigarettes.

“I think vaping and e-cigarettes should be held to the same regulations as regular cigarettes. They’re still pretty new, and we do not yet fully understand all risks involved with vaping,” Alfakir said.

Those who do vape, however, argue that vaping is a much healthier alternative to regular cigarettes, and say there is no proof that second-hand smoke from vaping is harmful, but they also understand that there is not enough research yet to fully back up this belief.

“I have used a nicotine vaporizer to successfully quit smoking for the past three years,” said Donald Russell, university curator for the School of Art. “While vaporizing is clearly safer than smoking, research studies on the effects of vaping are sparse. As a precaution, I only use organic fluid with 6mg/liter nicotine vaporized at 5 watts or less.”

“Vaping has a fraction of the dangers affiliated with smoking. As far as studies are concerned, vaping hasn’t shown any side-effects for those who are exposed to it second-hand,” Bush said.

There is just not enough data yet to prove that second-hand vaping smoke is harmful, but Jannery said as more and more data comes out every day, it is just a matter of time before Mason’s and other universities’ policies change with the new data.

“For probably most offices and universities, it is just a policy that’s going to be updated in time. If we continue to see more and more vaping and students complain about it, then it’s something [Mason] will have to look at,” Jannery said. “Our university is really proactive and I think [it is] incredible at listening to student’s needs on both sides. I think this issue just hasn’t really come to the forefront, but it might be one of those upcoming news topics that we’re going to need to start talking about.”

Photo Credit: Amy Rose