UC Irvine Administration E-Cig Policy Pending

University of California President Napolitano made a clarifying amendment on Jan. 9th to the UC-wide smoke and tobacco policy that superseded UC Irvine’s decision to allow the use of electronic cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

Resident Advisors and Greek chapter houses were advised of the new ban last week. However, there has been no widely distributed official statement to UCI students, faculty and staff regarding the pending policy amendment.

According to UCI spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon, the smoke-free policy task force, comprised of staff, faculty and students, that drafted the Irvine campus’ smoking policy was under the impression that it had the autonomy to allow electronic cigarettes on campus. Lawhon said that the task force submitted its policy to the systemwide task force, initiated by the UC Office of the President, around this time last year without incident. The task force, comprised mainly of staff and faculty from across the 10 campuses as well UCLA and UC Davis medical centers, then responded only two weeks ago with its insistence that UCI revise its policy to encompass the prohibition of electronic cigarettes and chewing tobacco as well.

UCI School of Law Professor Joe DiMento, one of the chairs of the systemwide task force as well as chair of UCI’s own smoke-free policy task force, asserted that UCI task force wanted to negotiate a compromise with the UC directive.

“The UCI policy is responsive to the needs of the campus community, some of whom indicated that use of e-cigarettes is a transition to a nicotine-free lifestyle,” said DiMento.

While it is clear why the use chewing tobacco faced the chopping block as it is a tobacco-based product, the debate over electronic cigarettes is much more fraught. Despite not producing carcinogenic first- or secondhand smoke nor being tobacco-based, electronic cigarettes (which heat water, propylene glycol, and nicotine into a flavored vapor) are included in the UC’s indiscriminate smoke and tobacco policies due to their federally unregulated nature as well the lack of a clear consensus among scientists regarding their health effects.

Citing the University of California’s reputation as a national leader in healthcare practices, former UC president Mark Yudof issued a letter in January 2012 charging that the chancellors of each campus implement in a smoke-free policy on their campus within two years. Although UCI’s decision to allow electronic cigarettes and chewing tobacco probably stemmed from Yudof’s admission that there is understanding for campuses to craft their policies in response to their individual needs, the letter was clear in saying that use of unregulated nicotine products such as electronic cigarettes will be strictly prohibited.

Professor Frances Leslie, a member of UCI’s policy task force, agreed, however, that the jury is out on the health effects of electronic cigarettes and that he thinks the call for UCI to amend its policy to fall in line with systemwide standards derives from a need for consistency rather than actual health reasons.

UCI’s task force is slated to meet in the upcoming weeks on how to implement the ban. The policy change will be posted online.