Thus far, Alaska is one of four states that have no reported cases of injury or death due to electronic cigarettes or vape usage, according to the Center for Disease Control. The leaders of the smoke and tobacco-free initiative at UAA are working to keep it that way.
Electronic cigarettes are “battery-operated devices that deliver nicotine, flavor additives and other chemicals through a vapor that is inhaled by the user,” according to Alaska’s Tobacco Quitline website. Vaping devices fall into this category.
The co-chairs of the UAA smoke and tobacco-free team are Dr. Gabriel Garcia, associate professor of public health and Joy Mapaye, Ph.D., associate professor of journalism and public communications. They have managed to maintain an 86.8% approval rate for the policy throughout the University of Alaska.
“Our strategy in implementing the smoke and tobacco-free policy is simple: make sure the UAA campus community is knowledgeable about the policy,” Dr. Garcia said.
UAA was one of the first universities in the U.S. to include e-cigarettes and vapes in its smoke and tobacco-free policy, according to Mapaye and Dr. Garcia. The university became officially smoke and tobacco-free on Nov. 19, 2015.
These headlines are not without merit. There have been 805 reported cases of lung injury and 12 confirmed deaths in the U.S. due to e-cigarettes or vaping products as of Sept. 27, according to the CDC.
Two-thirds of the reported cases involve 18 to 34-year-olds, according to the CDC. The average age of a UAA student is 28.5, according to UAA Institutional Research, which falls well within that range.
“The good news is that the UA smoke and tobacco-free policy is working,” Mapaye said. “However, e-cigarette and vape use are on the rise, mirroring trends we see across the country. The bottom line is this: unlike cigarettes, we simply don’t know the long-term effects of prolonged e-cigarette use.”
This summer, the Municipality of Anchorage voted unanimously agreed to illegalize selling nicotine products and e-cigarette devices to individuals under the age of 21, as opposed to the previous age of 19.
Mapaye believes that increased advertisement of e-cigarettes and vaping contributes to misconceptions about the safety of the devices. The CDC reported that e-cigarette companies increased advertising spending from $6.4 million in 2011 to $115 million in 2014, with further increases projected.
“Your lungs were meant for clean air, nothing else,” Mapaye said. “Unlike cigarettes, we simply don’t know the long-term effects of prolonged e-cigarette use, and that’s a scary thing.”
Betty Bang is a nurse practitioner involved with the Student Health and Counseling Center’s health promotion team. She hopes to help spread awareness at UAA about the harmful effects of using e-cigarettes and vaping devices.
Bang and Dr. Garcia both expressed concern about second-hand smoke’s effect on students who did not consent to the usage of nicotine products. Bang asserted that the aerosols negatively impact indoor air. Dr. Garcia noted that some members of the UA community have respiratory conditions such as asthma.
“We need to respect others’ rights who want to breathe clean air,” Dr. Garcia said. “Everyone has a responsibility to let those not complying with the policy know about it and to point them to quitting resources if needed.”
The CDC recommends refraining from using vaping and e-cigarette products, with an emphasis on youth and young adults avoiding usage.
Dr. Garcia said studies are just beginning to surface about the harmful health effects of vaping products.
“[Vaping is] a very timely subject,” Bang said. “To get the word out, have your friends [who vape] look at reliable information.”
Bang said that the Student Health and Counseling Center, as well as Brittney Kupec, the alcohol, drug and wellness educator at UAA, are helpful on-campus resources for combating nicotine addiction. She also recommended consulting Alaska’s Tobacco Quitline as an off-campus resource.
Kupec may be reached by phone at (907) 786-1511, by email at [email protected] or by visiting her at the Dean of Students Office Suite in Rasmuson Hall room 122.
The Student Health and Counseling Center is located in Rasmuson Hall rooms 116 and 120, open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-6 p.m. on Thursday and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday. Its phone number is (907) 786-4040.
Alaska’s Tobacco Quitline is a free resource for quitting tobacco and nicotine products. It may be reached by calling +1 (800) 784-8669 or visiting their website at alaskaquitline.com.