Univ. of Iowa Leaders Discuss E-cigarettes & Smoking Ban

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By Aaron Hepker

IOWA CITY, Iowa - The University of Iowa, like the rest of the state, has started the conversation about what to do with electronic cigarettes.

The electronic vaporizers meant to simulate cigarettes without using tobacco have burst onto the scene of late, causing some confusion about where they fall in regards to smoking bans and policies. The State of Iowa has begun discussing how to address their use – Iowa’s 2008 Smoke-Free Air Act bans cigarette use in public places, enclosed work places and some outdoor areas, but it doesn't address the electronic devices.

And now UI officials are raising the issue with staff and student governance groups.

At this week’s Faculty Council meeting, UI director of Human Resources Services Joan Troester, presented the issue as an education item. She told faculty members that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t yet created rules for e-cigarette regulation and that very little is known about the health effects on those who use them and those who are near users.

“This is really just to begin to get input from the campus and introduce what they are,” Troester said.

Electronic cigarettes use small heaters that vaporize liquid nicotine and other compounds to create a puff of hot gas that feels like tobacco smoke. The devices do not contain tobacco products, and cartridges are available without nicotine.

During the UI’s Faculty Council meeting this week, some staff members expressed concern about students lighting up in class and the distraction that could cause. Others suggested professors include a ban on e-cigarette use in their syllabi – until the UI takes it up at a campus-wide level – or ask that prohibitions be implemented at the individual building level.

There was concern among the faculty about regulating the devices with so little information.

“There is very little data available on the use and the effect,” Troester said. “But they are a new device, and they have been getting some attention, obviously.”

That attention is the reason for the UI discussions. Troester said there haven’t been any complaints related to e-cigarette use among students or on campus, and she has no way of tracking whether the trend is gaining momentum here.

Over the remainder of the fall semester, Troester said she will make similar presentations to the UI’s undergraduate and graduate student governance groups.

The collective feedback will give UI officials some information as to how to proceed with possible e-cigarette regulations on campus.

The UI went smoke-free campus-wide on July 1, 2008 – the UI Hospitals and Clinics banned smoking earlier in 2006, and the UI’s health sciences campus banned smoking in 2007.

Other universities across the county have integrated the new electronic cigarettes into their existing smoking policies. The University of Texas, for example, included the devices in its smoking prohibitions in 2011, and the University of Illinois at Chicago banned e-cigarettes this year.

The Faculty Council didn’t take any action on the item, but the Faculty Senate is scheduled to meet Oct. 22 and could continue the discussion at that time.

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