Op-ed: Northeastern should ban e-cigarettes across campus

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Op-ed: Northeastern should ban e-cigarettes across campus

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Cameron Barnett, contributor

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It’s hard to escape vaping. It’s found all around the country, the state and the city. On street corners and walking to class, the shroud of vaping hangs over the student body, clouding it with its lingering smoke. It is not uncommon to have a blanket of vapor blown in your face as you’re walking through Centennial, nor is it unheard of to smell the scent of e-cigarettes in the air as you return to your dorm. Vaping is a part of life at Northeastern, as it is across the nation for students and teenagers. However, as the detriments of vaping are becoming more known, and the myths surrounding it are dispelled, it is important that we encourage a logical response to best protect today’s youth. For the sake of its students, Northeastern University should ban e-cigarettes and vaping products from its campus.

We cannot delude ourselves into believing vaping is a harmless activity. We should instead focus on the current epidemic of lung-related illnesses as proof of the serious threat vaping poses. According to the CDC the outbreak of vaping-related illnesses has already left 12 dead in 10 states, with approximately 805 reported cases. The constant in all cases was the use of e-cigarettes or vaping. The existence of this epidemic in our country demonstrates the legitimately dangerous potential of e-cigarettes, placing the product under more scrutiny amidst the fear of vaping’s health hazards.

The widespread nature of vaping isn’t a surprise, especially to students and young people. The media has repeatedly reported the growing addiction to vaping in recent years, so much so that it was eventually labeled with the term “epidemic,” a word reminiscent of a dangerous outbreak of a disease or, historically, a plague. It is possible that chemicals found in these products could be responsible for the health crisis, chief amongst them tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and Vitamin E-acetate. The fact remains, however, that we do not know the definitive reason behind the current outbreak. We cannot be sure of a particular substance or practice that resulted in the deaths of those 12 people, but we can be sure of the commonalities. We know the victims used some form of e-cigarette, and they are now involved in a national debate over the role of e-cigarettes in our lives.

Regarding Northeastern University’s role in this epidemic, it has a responsibility to its students to provide a safe setting for learning. Northeastern has already banned smoking on campus in order to promote a healthy campus, but e-cigarettes were an exception. With the increased focus on the effects of vaping on students’ bodies and minds, Northeastern should revisit this policy and reevaluate the idea of vaping as an exception to regulation and instead identify it as what it is: a possible public health hazard. 

To some, the fact that the dangers of vaping are not yet confirmed invites the idea that advocates of regulation are overreacting, but we are speaking of a health crisis, not a criminal trial. Vapes should not be given the comfort of being assumed innocent until we can prove they’re not killing people. Instead, we should dedicate our efforts to ensuring that our students and faculty are not consuming what is very likely a dangerous substance. The Governor of Massachusetts already banned the sale of vaping products for four months while the products’ viability is examined. It is time for Northeastern to follow the state’s lead and prevent the spread of the vaping epidemic to our campus.

Regardless of the state’s behavior, the university endangers its students by allowing the continued use of e-cigarettes and vape products on campus. Aside from the obvious health implications for students who continue vaping, students who do not vape but inhale chemicals through secondhand vapor could also be at risk. As with e-cigarettes themselves, we are not sure of the possible implications of inhaling others’ clouds as they vape. While it is true the effects of inhaling vapor from an e-cigarette are likely not as dangerous as inhaling cigarette smoke, breathing in foreign chemicals with the potential to damage the body and mind is hardly a conciliatory result. To be satisfied with an option that is clearly dangerous simply because you avoid a more dangerous result is to be indifferent to the problem itself.

Moreover, while we do not have recent scientific consensus to understand the potential damage of secondhand vaping, we do know the toxins involved in the vape clouds themselves. Specifically, e-cigarette flavorings have drawn concerns, as they contain chemicals associated with lung problems. Of course, any dangers in the vape contents would primarily affect the user, but it is irresponsible at best to blow potentially toxic substances into the air without knowledge of their effects on the student population.  

The reality of vaping is that it is dangerous, perhaps less than cigarettes, but dangerous all the same. There are those who extol the value of e-cigarettes in helping smokers quit, as well as blame the bulk of the epidemic upon illegal Juuls that contain prohibited substances. However, e-cigarettes and vapes still contain nicotine, making them addictive products. While inconclusive knowledge could cause some to wait for further research, such an approach would likely only be more harmful to e-cigarette users, who would still be feeding their addiction and fueling the current epidemic. 

Northeastern University has the ability to further curb the use of e-cigarettes and prevent even more students from vaping. While a campus-wide ban may not completely eliminate the practice amongst the student body, it would be a step in the right direction and would further limit the ability of students to access these drugs in public. The ban would also be the safest option for students who do not vape and value their respiratory health. Northeastern needs to uphold its obligation to its students and ban e-cigarettes across campus, so that the university may lift the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the student body.

Cameron Barnett is a first-year journalism and English combined major.