Calvin bans indoor use of e-cigarettes

Last month, Calvin officially banned the indoor use of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices.  This decision came after Residence Life received a number of complaints about indoor e-cigarette smoking.

John Witte, dean of Residence Life, explained the decision process.

“We contacted a number of other colleges, did some web searching for policies around the country, and then ultimately made this decision within that context,” said Witte. “The vast majority of what we found was a restriction on using these devices indoors. Though as you can imagine, this is not without controversy.”

Most policies about e-cigarette smoking on college campuses are relatively new, spurred by increased e-cigarette usage across the country.

According to a 2013 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarette use more than doubled among U.S. middle and high school students between 2011 and 2012.

These flameless, battery-powered e-cigarettes work by vaporizing (hence the term “vaping”) a combination of nicotine, flavoring and food-grade solvents.

This makes their side effects more ambiguous.

“E-cigarettes don’t have a flame, so the issue is not fire safety. But they do have scents and odors, which although more containable, can get into fabrics and such, leaving a scent residue much like if you kept burning incense in a room day after day or kept spraying the same air-freshener day after day,” said Witte. “We don’t know what the long term effects will be of that — does it fade, will the room smell for a while, can it be cleaned?”

Ultimately, the biggest concern for Witte is the harmful nicotine that e-cigarettes dispense.

Witte said, “With the FDA deciding how to regulate them, with most colleges keeping them outdoors and treating them like smoking, we decided to err on the side of caution here. I’m not convinced they are worth promoting. Students can try and use them outside, if they desire, but we’ll keep the inside living quarters free of smoking and vaping.”

Over the summer, the new policy will be reviewed by all of the relevant committees and either revised or finalized. By the fall semester, e-cigarette use may be restricted to designated smoking areas alongside traditional cigarettes.

Witte said, “I suspect that the indoor ban will continue, as that seems to be the trend nationally, though as we learn more about the devices and the initial wave of interest peaks, perhaps there will be new information that will inform our decision going forward.”

For now, Witte offered the following advice: “If it looks like smoking, keep it outside.”