Voicing Opposing to UF’s E-cigarette Ban

Update Nov. 15: My letter to the editor in Monday’s Alligator.

Recently I wrote about the potential e-cigarettes hold for harm reduction, so when the University of Florida proposed a regulation that would expand its tobacco use ban to explicitly include e-cigarettes, I decided to speak up. Today I sent the following e-mail to Paula Fussell, Vice President for Human Resources.

Ms. Fussell,

I applaud the University’s steps to eliminate tobacco usage on campus and to make cessation programs available, but I urge you to reconsider the language in proposed Regulation UF 2.022 (1)(c) that defines the use of an “electronic cigarette or any other device intended to simulate smoking” as “tobacco use”.

I have never smoked, but having many family members who have struggled many years to quit, I find the principle of harm reduction to be an essential part of the public campaign to reduce tobacco-related harms. With 14 million active smokers in the U.S., compelling even a small portion of those to at least partially switch to non-smoking nicotine delivery systems would undoubtedly yield dramatic public health gains.

While extensive research is forthcoming, preliminary studies in several countries suggest that e-cigarettes are a safe delivery device for vaporized nicotine–by itself unlikely to pose significant risk–without the known harmful elements of smoking. The University should certainly not “promote” any product without a conclusive record of safety, but permitting the very discreet use of e-cigarettes by individuals who’ve found great difficulty in quitting smoking would be humane and likely cause harm to no one.

I would hope our goal is not to harm employees through administrative punishment simply because such e-cigarette usage appears similar to smoking. One way to avoid this harm would be to simply exclude the language I mentioned from the proposed regulation and allow state and local laws to apply. Another pragmatic solution would be to maintain a policy (official or unofficial) of ignoring very discreet e-cigarette usage by employees who have demonstrated attempts at smoking cessation. Anecdotally, I’ve yet to encounter a single e-cigarette user on campus, but if visibility is a problem, an effort to reduce that aspect might be more helpful than punishment.

As a University, we should let evidence guide our policies. I’ve yet to see significant evidence that such e-cigarette usage (1) involves “tobacco use”, (2) would harm the user or individuals nearby, (3) would encourage non-smokers to take up tobacco use, (4) would prevent the user from reducing his/her tobacco use, or (5) constitutes a significant problem for the University. We should consider that solving problems that may not exist can have negative consequences.

Thank you for your time.

Stephen Clay

Ms. Fussell kindly replied:

Thank you for your comments. The university has and will be offering free smoking cessation classes to help people stop smoking. The intention is to eliminate all tobacco product on campus.. There is not enough information about any of the new products to ensure that there would not be any long-term negative effects. Enforcement will start with peer pressure and so far there is significant support for the changes. Paula

Sounds like a done deal.

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