Photo Credit: Victoria Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Cigarette use in teenagers fell by over 40 percent from 2011–2014, according to a survey the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FDA released this past month. That’s the good news.

The not so good news? The same report shows teenagers use of e-cigarettes increased nearly eight-fold during that time.

E-cigarettes are a 21st century take on smoking. They use a battery-operated device that looks like a cigarette and turns liquid from a cartridge into an aerosol. But since vaping arrived on the market less than a decade ago and only gained popularity within the last five years, scientists can’t yet study long-term effects. For that to happen, it will take more time.

Vaping, the term for using an e-cigarette device, is a tobacco-free process, except in cases when small amounts of tobacco are used in the liquid cartridges for flavoring. There is a lower risk of the adverse health effects, such as lung cancer, associated with traditional smoking — still the leading cause of preventable disease in the U.S.

Vaping is still a delivery system for nicotine, the chemical that gives cigarettes their addictive qualities. And while scientists do not believe nicotine causes cancer, it’s associated with raised blood pressure, increased heart rate and birth defects. It’s also associated with problems in brain development for adolescents.

It’s also difficult to judge the safety of e-cigarettes independent of their context. Some people use them as a replacement for traditional cigarettes, and, for them, the switch is a step in the right direction. E-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes, but that is largely because cigarettes have a long list of health risks associated with them.

Some retailers have promoted e-cigarettes as a method to quit smoking in the past, but the FDA no longer allows presenting them that way. Although there is some research to support the idea, the FDA doesn’t endorse vaping for this purpose as they do nicotine patches or nicotine gum.

The somewhat ambiguous nature of the health risks in e-cigarettes — such as secondhand or “passive,” vaping — have made it difficult to classify them in terms of public policy.

Laws about e-cigarettes are also ambiguous because they haven’t been around long. 

The CDC recently reported that there are no laws against selling e-cigarettes to minors for 10 states in the country, including Texas. And, while individual
cities have specific legislature to deal with this problem, Austin isn’t one of them. As of now, many of the e-cigarette retailers in the area will not sell to anybody under the age of 18 even if it is technically legal.

So all of this information leaves the question: Should you vape? Probably not. Nicotine is addictive and not very good for your body. But neither are Lil’ Nookies from Torchy’s. Or pulling all-nighters. It would be irresponsible to suggest that e-cigarettes are a good idea, but, at the same time, personal health shouldn’t be the only factor in decision-making processes.

Senate passes bill banning sale of e-cigarettes to minors

The Texas Senate passed a bill banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors by a 27–3 vote Tuesday.

E-cigarettes are battery or electronically-powered cigarettes that can be used to vaporize nicotine products for consumption.   

“What this bill does is it takes e-cigarettes and puts them in the same category as we do tobacco cigarettes,” Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), primary author of the bill, said.

Hinojosa said there is an increasing number of adolescents using e-cigarettes.

“E-cigarettes are becoming very popular in our school districts, so we now have students are using e-cigarettes all over school grounds including in restaurants and in playgrounds,” Hinojosa said.

According to a 2014 study conducted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, about 17 percent of 12th-grade students have used e-cigarettes. The 30-day study found that 14.2 percent of 12th-graders felt e-cigarettes were harmful to their health.

Hinojosa said he believes e-cigarette use by adolescents will lead to cigarette addiction as adults.

“I call them training devices,” Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa motioned to expedite the bill to its final reading.

Photo Credit: Andrea Kurth | Daily Texan Staff

While many universities continue to grapple with unclear policies regarding recently popular electronic cigarettes, UT set a clear ban on them during the 2012 tobacco-free initiative. 

Adrienne Howarth-Moore, director of UT’s Human Resource Services, said the decision to include other smoking devices that do not directly use tobacco, including e-cigarettes, in the tobacco-free campus initiative was based in part on the unknown potential health risks e-cigarettes pose to nonsmokers.

“E-cigarettes are not currently regulated by the FDA and there is not sufficient safety information available to address bystanders’ concerns of being exposed to e-cigarette vapors,” Howarth-Moore said. ”The University benchmarked the definition used by other institutions already tobacco free and consulted with the Austin Travis County Health and Human Services Department.”

Howarth-Moore said banning e-cigarettes was part of the stipulation for tobacco-free campus funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT.

“CPRIT does include e-cigarettes as a prohibited item for purposes of certifying an entity as meeting their tobacco free criteria,” Howarth-Moore said. “To allow e-cigarettes would jeopardize CPRIT funding.”

According to Howarth-Moore, there was a student survey given in 2011 about opinions toward cigarettes on campus, but there was never a similar survey for e-cigarettes. Howarth-Moore said the ban on e-cigarettes was approved by representatives from multiple organization on campus, including Student Government, Staff Council and Faculty Council.

English junior Alexa Capareda said she doesn’t think e-cigarettes are bothersome in the same way as regular cigarettes. But she said when people are allowed to smoke them in enclosed spaces, it can be uncomfortable.

“They don’t smell so they aren’t as bad, but I saw someone smoking one on the bus and it caught me off guard,” Capareda said. “Maybe people shouldn’t be allowed to smoke them in enclosed spaces, like on a bus.”

Elysse Alvarado, international and global relations junior, said she believes e-cigarettes do not seem to be a problem on campus.

“I’ve never seen anyone smoking an electronic cigarette, I didn’t even know they were banned,” Alvarado said.

Aaron Dugan, part owner of smoke shop Austin City Vapors on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, said having an on-campus ban on e-cigarettes has not been detrimental to business.

“I don’t feel like the ban has affected business because this is something that people are using to quit,” Dugan said. “If they want to quit, they are going to use it.”

I want to start off by saying that I have no problem with a tobacco ban on campus; I understand that the funding received from the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) is critical to continuing to perform cutting edge and potentially life-saving research here at UT, as well as the public health benefits of instituting such a ban. That being said, I find it puzzling in the extreme that CPRIT has chosen to include a ban on electronic cigarettes in its stipulation for funding.

The problem is that e-cigarettes are not a tobacco product. They traditionally contain no tar, or any known carcinogens. By contrast, cigarettes contain at least 19 known carcinogenic chemicals. There has not yet been much research on the safety or usefulness of e-cigarettes as smoking-cessation devices, due in large part to their relatively recent invention. Because of this, e-cigarettes have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a smoking-cessation device, yet I and many smokers I know have had great success in cutting back on smoking or quitting completely through its use.

In e-cigarettes, I and many others see great potential for a tool that helps people quit smoking, preserves public health by reducing second-hand smoke and allows persons the freedom to continue to consume nicotine in a relatively safe manner. CPRIT is fighting against against its own interests and the interests of University students by including e-cigarettes under its stipulations for funding. Perhaps a portion of the research money which the University will receive should go to investigating cancer prevention methods that new technology create for us recently but are not yet fully understood.

Justin Hillsmith
Psychology senior