A rising trend: E-cigarette usage on campus and vaping indoors

VaperThumbE-cigarettes are a relatively new and increasingly popular method to get nicotine or to help quit smoking. Bellevue College students are no exception, and e-cigarette use on campus has increased dramatically in the last year. E-cigarette usage on campus is most often seen in the smoking areas on campus, but students can also be seen vaporizing across campus, sometimes indoors. While there are still no state laws or ordinances addressing e-cigarettes specifically, in Dec. of 2010 the King County board of health passed a proposal that banned the use of e-cigarettes in areas where regular cigarette usage is prohibited, countywide.

According to BC’s public disclosure page found on the BC website, the smoking policy for the school is “in accordance with the Washington Clean Indoor Air Act of 1985 (RCW 70.160) … smoking and tobacco use are permitted only in designated locations. Administrative Services will designate locations outside the campus courtyard on the main campus.” BC Public Safety confirmed that these rules apply the same to e-cigarettes as traditional cigarettes, meaning e-cigarette use is only allowed in the designated locations, in accordance with the King County board of health’s ruling.

E-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes) are an alternative to regular cigarettes. They use a liquid mix of propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin, flavoring and nicotine to allow the user to simulate smoking a cigarette, in contrast to burning tobacco leaf, in a way that is perceived by many to be safer and less obtrusive than a cigarette. E-cigarettes lack the thick, resinous smoke that is the product of traditional cigarettes. Citing reduced risk from secondhand smoke and reduced smell, e-cigarette users indulge their habit indoors where ordinary cigarette usage would be discouraged.

E-cigarettes range from cheap, simple and disposable to complex and elaborate devices, but all have the same fundamental principle: A wick around a heating coil draws the liquid out of a storage tank, and the coil vaporizes the liquid. Contrary to popular belief, the smoke produced by an e-cigarette is not water vapor, but the same smoke that comes out of smoke machines, vaporized propylene glycol. Lacking the tar that is the product from burning plant matter, the smoke does not leave a lasting odor on the user or their surroundings, and as such is considered by some to be a more polite way to smoke around non-smokers.

Whenever a new innovation is made in a heavily-regulated aspect of the market (in this case, tobacco), there is a period of adjustment during which laws that do not clearly address new products. E-cigarettes are no different. Indoor smoking bans are a notable grey area when it comes to e-cigarettes. While some states are considering bills to exempt e-cigarettes from smoking bans, Washington state government instead is considering a bill that would tax e-cigarettes. Options raised range from a 95 to 75 percent wholesale tax, to a tax based on the amount of nicotine in the product. However, this would not apply to gum, patches or other FDA-approved smoking cessation aids.