Electronic cigarettes gaining popularity among students


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Some electronic cigarettes are made to look like your standard cigarette. Others look more like a colorful tube of mascara, and still others resemble a fancy fountain pen.

Regardless of their appearance, they all share one common element: You can smoke them.

While a small bump in traditional cigarette smoking occurred for one segment of the University of Iowa community, several officials appear concerned about a recent national shift to increased e-cigarette use. And it appears that the same trend is reflected locally.

The battery-powered devices come in a variety of shapes and models, delivering an aerosol mist of vaporized nicotine that the user inhales.

This form of smoking, called “vaping,” gives users hit of nicotine without exposing them or those around them to tobacco smoke.

Because of this, users often maintain it’s the traditional version’s healthier counterpart.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that last year, e-cigarette use among U.S. teens has more than doubled, from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012.

UI economics lecturer Patrick Barron attributes the rise in e-cigarette use to a symbol of adulthood that cigarettes have grown to represent in recent decades.

“There’s still a desire by young people to demonstrate their adulthood and their independence, so the electronic cigarettes are one way to do that,” Baron said.

Unlike traditional varieties, e-cigarettes can be smoked seemingly anywhere, from bars and restaurants to public libraries.

Ben, a bartender at Deadwood Tavern, 6 S. Dubuque St., who declined to provide his last name, said the increase comes in light of their smoking convenience.

Because of this, he said, they have become commonplace at Deadwood.

Further, local officials have noticed the increased presence of e-cigarettes in public areas.

“Our officers have been noticing the use of e-cigarettes on campus, downtown, and recently at Kinnick Stadium during home football games,” said Chuck Green, the assistant vice president for the UI police.

One Johnson County official said, however, many other factors play into their growing popularity.

“I think [that e-cigarettes are appealing] because A — there’s no regulation on them, and B — it’s something students can do no matter where they’re at,” Deputy Director of Johnson County Public Health Trisha Kitzmann said.

The lack of regulation compared with traditional cigarettes is because they are not illegal in any way, officials maintain.

“From a law-enforcement perspective, the use of electronic cigarettes is no different than someone deciding to chew gum or drink a bottle of water in public,” Green said.

From the municipality viewpoint, officials with the county’s three largest communities expressed similar sentiments, citing them as a non-issue.

Iowa City police Sgt. Vicki Lalla and North Liberty interim Police Chief Diane Venenga said throughout their careers in law enforcement, they haven’t witnessed any legal issues with e-cigarettes.

“Is it a problem for me as a parent? Yeah. Is it a problem for me as a police officer? No, not at all, because it’s not illegal,” Coralville police Lieutenant Shane Kron said. “We only deal with the law.”

Whether the use of e-cigarettes is completely safe or not — that issue is still being studied.

“We don’t yet understand the long-term effects of these novel tobacco products," Mitch Zeller, director of the Federal Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products, said in a public statement.

The FDA is expected to start regulating the use of e-cigarettes as soon as October.

The belief that e-cigarettes are much safer than traditional cigarettes is common among many UI students who claim to use the smoking devices.

While UI sophomore Nikki Gleisner said she believes individuals opt for the electronic option because they filter more tobacco, freshman Mike Palmer related the option to more of a hookah-like experience.

“You can feel it when you smoke them, the filter is so much stronger and cleaner than a normal cigarette,” UI sophomore Marshall Gordon said. “It’s like smoking air.”

But at least one UI student has reservations about the new trend.

“I hear people talking about how they’re harmless and like smoking air, but I think there has to be a catch in there somewhere,” junior Quinton Sturdivant said. “I wouldn’t trust anything with tobacco companies.”

Preliminary analysis by researchers at the FDA have actually found very low levels of nitrosaminesethylene glycol, and diethylene glycol — chemicals associated with cancer and other health risks — in some electronic cigarette products.

Those levels, however, were a tiny fraction of what a smoker would get from a tobacco cigarette.

Although these studies remain preliminary, one local health official hopes that the results will affect how young adults view e-cigarettes.

“I think there’s the perception that it’s safe. There’s really no such thing as anything safe, when it comes to smoking,” Kitzmann said. “If there’s cigarettes and it’s smoking, it’s usually not safe.”

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