Vaping prohibited on campus, policy not enforced

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Jeremy Rodriguez sits in the back corner of his documentary class, where he stealthily hits his Juul –– a compact e-cigarette that resembles a USB stick more than a tobacco product. His professor doesn’t seem to notice the thin cloud of smoke, which immediately dissipates after Rodriguez exhales.

New York state law prohibits vaping indoors in public and e-cigarettes are prohibited on campus under UB’s smoke-free policy. Rodriguez, a sophomore media study major, doesn’t care that he’s breaking UB policy because he knows he can get away with it.

“I can use my Juul anywhere. Professors never notice if I take a quick puff in class,” Rodriguez said. “If I have a craving, I can’t always pull out a cigarette on campus or in a building, so these are perfect.”

Vapes are currently not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration nor considered an approved device to help quit smoking. There are opposing schools of thought about whether the devices are a gateway to traditional cigarette use or serve as a cessation device, or both. Researchers have been fighting for stronger guidelines to warn potential users of the chemicals in e-liquids and the dangers of vaping.

In 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that banned using e-cigarettes and vapes indoors, and SUNY’s website says, “The university would seek to have e-cigarettes included [in the smoke-free policy] as there is no FDA approval to use [them] as a cessation device.”

Rodriguez isn’t alone. Across the country, thousands of college students are using Juuls and other vapes to get their nicotine fix and vaporize herbs, like marijuana.

A 2016 report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2013-14, nearly 36 percent of adults aged 18-24 had used e-cigarettes and almost 14 percent were regular users. The study also says e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among youth, surpassing conventional cigarettes in 2014. 40 percent of users had never smoked cigarettes before.

The statistics are problematic for Nancy Campbell-Heider, an associate professor in the nursing school, who recently published research on teens’ use of e-cigarettes. She said vape smoke is still harmful to the environment and humans.

“People who vape somehow think they’re not contaminating the environment or anyone around them,” Campbell-Heider said. “Secondhand vape [is] just like cigarettes. If you’re sitting at the airport or bar, or even in your class, and someone next to you is vaping, it’s not regulated, so you’re subject to that secondhand smoke.”

Erica Dombrowski, a senior political science major, hates when students vape during class. She finds the scent repulsive and is concerned about the health effects from secondhand smoke.

“I think vaping inside is absolutely unnecessary,” Dombrowski said. “It’s totally fine outside, but there’s this obsessive need to do [it] in class, which is scary. There’s no enforcement.”

Juuls require a small pod, containing nicotine and chemicals for flavoring. According to the company’s website, smoking one pod delivers the same amount of nicotine as smoking one pack of cigarettes. In New York, a four-pack of pods costs $15.99. By comparison, an average pack of cigarettes costs $10.50, according to Time.

Students said pods may be more expensive, but the devices are inconspicuous, easily available and have a variety of flavors.

Those factors, mixed with the university’s lackadaisical enforcement of the smoke-free policy, makes students feel comfortable vaping indoors, according to interviews.

Rodriguez realizes he’s more addicted to his Juul than he was to cigarettes. He knows the Juul is bad for his health, but when he compares it to the 4,000 chemicals found in cigarettes, he feels better about vaping.

“I’m way beyond hooked on this thing. It’s insane,” Rodriguez said. “I smoke my Juul way more than I smoked cigarettes. I go through a pod a day. If I smoked cigarettes the way I smoked my Juul, I’d easily go through more than a pack a day.”

Faculty Senate chair Phil Glick said UB doesn’t know how to enforce its smoke-free policy. President Tripathi recently rejected the Senate’s “Breathe Free UB” campaign, which would have implemented stronger regulations for smoking on campus. He didn’t specify a reason for the rejection, according to Glick.

“The bottom line is that there’s a smoke-free policy at UB right now that should be enforced. That’s official. It’s disappointing to me as a doctor. I know how bad smoking is,” Glick said. “As a faculty member who sees staff bringing their children to campus, I’m disappointed. I’m sure students are disappointed arriving on campus and seeing that no one is enforcing this. UB could do a better job enforcing what we’re trying to do: creating [a] safe environment for students to learn at, and that includes safe air.”

Other students use Juuls in an attempt to quit smoking. Adam Shumaker, a senior marketing major, said he’s a social smoker. At parties he occasionally enjoyed a cigarette, but has never smoked them regularly. He wanted to stop buying cigarettes altogether, so a friend suggested he buy a Juul.

“I still mainly vape when I’m drunk or have a buzz going,” Shumaker said. “I know some guys who have more traditional vape rigs and they’ll blow $500 or $600 on that s––t. I know they’re still unhealthy, but I feel like it’s better than smoking the occasional cigarette.”

Research has proven there’s a disconnect between people who vape and smoke cigarettes.

Lynn Kozlowski, a psychology professor at UB, co-authored a paper examining smoking and vaping trends. His research found evidence that people who vape don’t necessarily smoke cigarettes.

“People who have tried cigarettes are likely to have also tried vaping,” Kozlowski said in an email. “[But] to date, the evidence is that very few people who have tried vaping –– but not cigarettes –– go on to become regular, daily smokers of cigarettes, although they may try a few cigarettes.”

Kozlowski said much of the current data on cigarette smokers is skewed by individuals who have only smoked once or twice. Many people who vape wanted to compare it to cigarettes and may have only tried one for the taste.

“It’s important to know whether someone has tried more than a few cigarettes or smokes only occasionally. Daily smoking of cigarettes has become a key measure of risks,” Kozlowski said. “While vaping should not be viewed as harmless, it is clear that smoking cigarettes is much more harmful than vaping.”

Campbell-Heider is encouraged by this research, but believes e-cigarettes are still a gateway drug for kids to move onto smoking traditional cigarettes. Her own grandson started vaping and now smokes cigarettes.

In 2016, more than2 million middle and high schoolers said they used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days in response to a survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The respondents who said they recently vaped reflected roughly 4 percent of middle schoolers and 11 percent of high schoolers.

Campbell-Heider said vaping will be a large issue for generations to come.

“What we need is more research to pinpoint vapes’ dangers,” Campbell Heider said. “These companies are misleading kids. Their brains can’t handle an addiction like an adult. They get that high and they want to have that high and then they’re addicted. Most kids don’t start with cigarettes. They start with e-cigs and then they want a bigger buzz.”

Max Kalnitz is a news editor and can be reached at max.kalnitz@ubspectrum.com

@Max_Kalnitz.