This Wednesday Nov. 19, first-year students in Robert Blystone’s first-year seminar, “Knowing and Persuading,” put together a campaign to present information on electronic cigarettes, called The Great American Vape-Out. In conjunction with the annual Great American Smokeout, put on by the American Cancer Society, the vape-out, held in Mabee Dining Hall, included a presentation over e-cigarettes and brochures with more information.

“We partnered with [Health Services] for the Great American Vape-Out, which focused more on e-cigarettes,” said first year Anna Kroll. “There haven’t been as many studies but many show that they can be just as dangerous; there are no FDA regulations on nicotine levels, anything that can be put in, because there hasn’t been enough research done.”

The Great American Smokeout, put together by the American Cancer Society, aims, according to their website, to “encourage smokers to use the date to make a plan to quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day.” The website notes that around 42 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, a number that reflects a bit under one in every five adults. E-cigarettes, first introduced to the U.S. in 2007, have since become a widespread phenomenon.

 

“Technically they have been around since 1960, but they never got really popular until two decades ago,” Kroll said. “[They] got a huge popularity boom as cigarettes died.”

Robert Blystone, professor of biology and the first-year seminar, offered his insights on the conversation of e-cigarettes and the history of tobacco regulation.

“In 1950 the first true highly detailed scientific facts supported paper appeared on the dangers of tobacco smoking; it was irrefutable,” Blystone said. “Well, the cigarette industry knew they could suffer liabilities so it was in their interest. One of the things they did in response to the first scientific report was to create filtered cigarettes. One aspect was some of the first filters were made of asbestos.”

In regards to e-cigarettes, Blystone mentioned the danger of a lack of regulation.

“There is no product safety, no product guarantees, no product testing, no regulations against how it can be distributed, sold,” Blystone said. “In many states, a twelve-year-old can go in and buy as much vaping paraphernalia they want, although many states are starting to restrict age.”

Seeking more information on the topic, Blystone decided to integrate the topic into the class, allowing students a different alternative to writing a paper.

“We could have done this topic a number of ways, but one of the elements of the course is knowing and persuading. When do you know enough to persuade someone?” Blystone said.

Blystone also made note that the campaign was one of, if not, the first attempt to address this conversation alongside the national smoke out.

“So they put together the campaign; to my knowledge it the first time anyone has joined with the smokeout as a vape-out,” Blystone said. “In some ways it’s more beneficial than just sitting down and writing a paper.”

To many, the benefits of e-cigarettes outweigh the possible dangers, and the consensus on the issue remains divided.

“Are the vapors produced by e-cigs less harmful than tobacco? The answer is very clear,” Blystone said. “But is the issue the particular matter or the nicotine? And again the jury is still out on that.”

Taking this into account, the class sought to approach the issue and information in an effort to get people thinking about the topic.

“For some people, especially experienced older-age smokers, probably yes, they are beneficial.  On the other hand, it is also a gateway product for teenagers who end up addicted to a smoking habit because they started vaping first,” Blystone said. “The vape-out was something we created for the class to figure out ‘what do I need to know to persuade people to think about vaping in either direction, a way to quit, or hopefully a way not to start’.”

The vape-out was only a portion of the first-year seminar, a “bridge” class developed by various professors to help integrate first generation college students to university life.

“Dr. Tynes and I became involved in this and Dr. Madrid joined us in our efforts and we have been doing it for five years now,” Blystone said. “We bring in first-generation students early, about two weeks, around the 11th of August, and I have two weeks to focus specifically on them, I get to know them real well real fast.”

To some students in the class, and many others, the dangers of e-cigarettes are clear. With many individuals seeing electronic cigarettes as a safe alternative to smoking, students like Kroll note the flaw in such logic.

“That’s the thing, that’s not true, there is no regulation; the FDA can’t come in to a place selling [electronic cigarettes] and enforce standards, and if they don’t there is no consequence,” Kroll said.

With the FDA releasing an issue to try to reach a consensus on future e-cigarette regulation, the contemporary issue continues to grow.

“This stuff is unfolding as we talk; this is a contemporary topic,” Blystone said. “The first place to work with e-cigs is how the FDA ultimately ends up having to classify e-cigs; [the New England Journal] said we can’t classify them by the standards that exist today, but what standards should we classify them by? Once we do that, we can get somewhere.”