Blowing Smoke: Electronic Cigarettes and the UC Anti Smoking Policy

Claire-Lise Kutlay
J.D. Candidate 2015, UCI Law

On January 2012, UC President Mark Yudof announced the new Smoke-Free Policy that will apply to all University of California campuses. The goal is to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke by creating a smoke-free environment. The policy will go into effect on January 1, 2014 on all UC campuses. According to President Yudof the policy will ban “smoking of tobacco products, smokeless tobacco products, and the use of unregulated nicotine products” (e.g. “e-cigarettes”). The policy applies to all indoor and outdoor spaces, including parking lots, private residential space, and Medical Center campuses.

This is not an article debating the merits of the Smoke-Free Policy. There are public health reasons driving the policy that have clear merit. This article focuses upon the inclusion of electronic cigarettes (“e-cigarettes”) in the smoking ban. On the UCI Smoke-Free Policy task force page e-cigarettes are not treated as President Yudof requests.  Instead, UCI outlines that “individual campus units may manage e-cigarette use in their own environments as they deem appropriate up to and including prohibiting their use.”

A plain reading of the UCI policy means that the law school would manage e-cigarette usage (which is doubtful as the school has other things to focus its energy on). I argue that the law school should not prohibit e-cigarette usage in the law school environment for three key reasons.

First, one of the main reasons driving the ban is to discourage freshmen undergraduates from picking up smoking. “Virtually nobody starts smoking after age 24 or 25,” according to Dr. Stanton Glantz, director of UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.  While the new 1L class may have some young students, they are still not the freshmen undergraduates that the policy is aimed at. Based on an incredibly unscientific study I can attest that not too many freshmen undergraduate students spend their time in the law school environment.

Furthermore, the danger of e-cigarettes to minors and nonsmokers does not apply to the law school. E-cigarettes are only popular among nonsmokers in the teenage group who view it as cool. The great thing about many law students is that we know smoking is not cool; in fact many who do smoke are embarrassed to be labeled a “smoker.” I highly doubt that law students will take up smoking e-cigarettes and then stumble onto smoking real cigarettes. The biggest gateway to smoking for nonsmokers is when socializing over drinks.

Second, everyone knows that law school is a stressful time. Exam period is one of the quickest ways to determine what a person’s bad habits may be. Banning e-cigarettes from the law school campus would add an undue amount of stress to an already highly susceptible group of students. While there are merits of a smoke free environment for student health, in the short term when you are stressed about class and unable to fulfill a habitual crutch it is a messy situation. True, nicotine products such as the patch or gum can help get the nicotine fix. However, the psychological aspects of “taking a smoke break” cannot be understated. It is a way to break up a long study session, or a quick way to decompress between classes. It is not always feasible for a person to rely upon a steady dosage of nicotine for moments when a cigarette will do much better.

This is the true beauty of the e-cigarette. It provides a sought after nicotine fix (depending on the level selected for your e-cigarette fluid), in addition to the comforting ritual of inhaling and blowing smoke. This is also why e-cigarettes are viewed as a smoking cessation tool by many of its users (though how effective it is as a cessation tool is controversial due to the lack of scientific studies of e-cigarettes).

Third, smoking an e-cigarette is not the same as smoking a cigarette.  An e-cigarette poses fewer risks to the user and to those in the surrounding environment. There is no tobacco in an e-cigarette therefore it is almost automatically excluded from a “tobacco-free” policy. E-cigarettes are reusable and do not lead to the same problem of littering as cigarettes.

This all may be moot. Dean Chemerinsky reported that according to the Task Force when someone violates the policy they will be handed a card informing them not to smoke. With what seems like a rather lax enforcement policy perhaps this will end up having no effect at all.