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UC Irvine continues to allow the use of electronic cigarettes and chewing tobacco on campus despite the University of California’s new smoke-free policy as of January 1.

According to a UC press release, the new policy is committed to cutting tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

Phuc Pham | New University
Phuc Pham | New University

“Smoking and the use of all tobacco products including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, snuff, water pipes, pipes, hookahs, chew and any other non-combustible tobacco product will be prohibited across all campuses and facilities, including inside buildings, outdoor areas and sidewalks, parking lots, and residential housing areas,” Dr. John Stobo, UC senior vice president for health sciences and services, said in a statement issued in December. “This is a major change for many people and will require all members of the university community to be ambassadors for this initiative.”

Despite this statement, UCI officials are letting students, staff and faculty use e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that produce nicotine-infused chemical vapors. They are commonly shaped like cigarettes.

According to the Orange County Register, UCI spokesperson Tom Vasich said, “It’s our understanding that each campus was given the autonomy to come up with its own policies, and our policy does have a provision that can prohibit e-cigarette use.”

He stressed that e-cigarettes emit vapors and not smoke. “When more scientific evidence is available that shows e-cigarettes are unhealthy, and that the vapor is unhealthy to others, the campus can further address the issue.”

All of the other UC campuses have banned all smoking, including e-cigarettes, and the use of chewing tobacco.

“It’s pretty ridiculous — we’re supposed to be the up-and-coming, health-oriented UC,” Scott Ondap, a senior studying public health sciences at UCI, told the OC Register. “But I’m glad we have at least something to start with.”

He, along with senior Dmitriy Nikitin, studying public health policy at UCI, are co-presidents of the Student Task Force Advocating Reducing Tobacco (START).

“So for the time being, if a student is able to end a difficult nicotine addiction with the use of an electronic cigarette when they have exhausted their armory of other traditional cessation methods…I think that’s great,” Nikitin said. “It would trouble me to see e-cigarettes being used merely as a way to circumvent the school’s smoke-free policy.”

The university’s newly implemented smoking policy includes every street, sidewalk and parking lot within UCI’s 2.3-square-mile borders and includes all 10 on-campus student housing communities, as well as faculty and staff housing in University Hills.

UCI Associate Professor of Public Health and Epidemiology Dr. David Timberlake, who is also a part of UCI’s smoke-free policy task force, said, “These items aren’t inspiring smoking cessation. And let’s face it. Nicotine is very addictive, and these alternative products really pack a punch.”

The ban will not include punitive measures, like fines, for the first two years of its implementation. Enforcement of the new policy will include a request to extinguish and a brochure on how to stop smoking.

Nikitin is interested in seeing whether the allowance of e-cigarettes on campus at UCI will lead to less people smoking compared to other UCs. “As we [enter] the new quarter, I think it’s crucial for the Anteater community to be compassionate towards smokers wanting to quit and for continuing smokers to be respectful of the newly implemented policy.”

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