KU bans e-cigarettes from campus buildings

FILE - A sales associate demonstrates the use of a electronic cigarette and the smoke like vapor that comes from it in Aurora, Colo. on Wednesday, March 2, 2011. Children - like adults - are increasingly trying electronic cigarettes, according to the first large national study to gauge use by middle and high school students. About 2 percent of the students said they’d used an e-cigarette in the previous month, according to a survey done in 2012. That was up from 1 percent in 2011. Results were released Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jack Tran, owner of Lawrence electronic cigarette store Juice-E-Vapes, said he used the devices to kick his own smoking habit.

Electronic cigarette users at Kansas University now must go outside and get at least 20 feet away from buildings to light up on campus, just like smokers of traditional cigarettes.

Evolving knowledge about e-cigarettes merited the policy change, KU human resources director Ola Faucher said.

“In this particular case we’re really interested in health issues, and we’d rather be a little bit out front than necessarily wait on iron-clad information,” Faucher said.

The provost’s office noted the change in a memo to deans, directors and department chairs this month, after KU, without fanfare, added e-cigarettes to its smoking policy effective in February. Infractions are punishable by fines ranging from $100 to $500, according to the policy.

Student Housing facilities are an exception — they remain smoke-free but not tobacco-free. Like smokeless tobacco products such as snuff, e-cigarettes are still allowed inside students’ rooms at residence halls, scholarship halls and apartments, but not in common areas.

Pros and cons to KU’s policy revision center around e-cigarettes’ impact on health, the effects of which have yet to be extensively studied.

Health debate

KU sought opinions from ear/eye/nose/throat surgeon Doug Girod, executive vice chancellor at KU Medical Center, and pulmonologist Steve Stites, vice chancellor for clinical affairs at KU Med.

“Both are adamant about the need to ban these as contributing to the likelihood of tobacco use by users of e-cigarettes, and both have seen the devastating consequences of tobacco use in their medical practices,” the provost’s memo said.

KU junior Ashley Hrabe said she was “ecstatic” about the policy change. Hrabe is the student founder of Breathe Easy at KU, which promotes moving to a tobacco-free campus, and a college representative for the Tobacco Free Kansas Coalition.

“E-cigarettes should be put into the same category as cigarettes on campus, mainly because they do produce a vapor,” Hrabe said. “They’re not as un-harmful as everyone thinks they are.”

Hrabe added that even though the devices are different, e-cigarettes mimic real cigarettes. She said neither conveys a healthy image on campus.

Not everyone agrees with KU lumping e-cigarettes with traditional ones.

“I’m kind of shocked,” said Robby Swonger, who opened the Vapor’s Edge E-Cig Shop in January at 1901 Massachusetts St. Swonger said many of his customers — both walk-in and home delivery — are KU students.

It’s “common sense” for e-cigarettes to be prohibited for people younger than 18, Swonger said. But he said college students and other adults should be allowed to use them anywhere.

“There’s no proof or documentation that there’s any effect from the second-hand steam, or the vape,” Swonger said. “I think it’s an individual’s choice.”

Other local policies

In December the Lawrence school board voted with no discussion to put e-cigarettes in the same category as other tobacco products, none of which are allowed to be used on school property.

At the city level, e-cigarettes are not subject to Lawrence’s smoking ban, according to city attorney Toni Wheeler.

KU Medical Center is in the process of revising its smoking policy and will most likely adopt the same policy as Lawrence’s to include e-cigarettes, spokeswoman C.J. Janovy said.

KU Student Housing added e-cigarettes to its policy last summer, associate director Jennifer Wamelink said. As KU discussed changes to the campus-wide smoking policy, a Student Housing advisory group sought feedback and felt strongly about keeping the housing policy the way it was.

The difference?

“It’s just recognition that it’s their residence,” Wamelink said. “If it’s done within the student’s room, there’s not the secondhand smoke concern that follows smoking.”

Wamelink said students who use e-cigarettes prompted Student Housing to include the devices in their policy. Otherwise her office doesn’t hear much about e-cigarettes.

“I would not say we’re seeing significant complaints or concerns about their use in our facilities,” Wamelink said.