Although Georgetown University can often feel like a bubble, its students are not immune to fluctuating trends in vaping and use of cigarettes. While cigarette use among teenagers is at an all-time low, the number of students vaping is skyrocketing, which may cause cigarette use to increase again.
Georgetown is currently reckoning with this trend. A 2016 Georgetown University Student Association referendum asked the student body to confront campus regulations and a potential future without smoking on campus.
GUSA’s campuswide smoking referendum aimed to gauge student interest in implementing a smoking ban on campus. The results revealed that 49.64 percent of students were in favor of implementing rules to make campus smoke-free, while 46.37 percent opposed the referendum. The remainder of students voted “undecided.” GUSA hoped to use this referendum to inform its stance in discussions with
University administrators, who had previously stated that its goal was to be a completely smoke-free campus by the end of the 2017-18 school year.
Currently, the official stance on smoking listed on Georgetown’s website states, “It is the policy of Georgetown University to achieve an environment as close to smoke-free as practically possible.” The explanation goes on to say that the goal of this policy is to protect nonsmokers from the health risks of smoking. No smoking is allowed inside any building on campus, and those who smoke must do so in “designated areas outdoors.”
Saad Bashir (COL ’19), a former GUSA senator who helped lead a campaign to vote “no” in the referendum, said that the campaign was not meant to indicate support for smoking on campus, but rather the need for more nuanced regulation.
“The purpose was to propose an alternative smoking policy our team developed,” Bashir said, “which included smoking zones and other better policy ideas overall compared to the university’s idea of a blanket ban on everything.”
At the time of the referendum, the proposed smoking ban on campus applied to all smoke and tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, hookahs, vaporizers and chewing tobacco. Bashir said this policy is problematic because it is difficult to enforce and could cause divisions between smokers and nonsmokers — or between international students and noninternational students.
Additionally, a cornerstone of Georgetown’s smoking policy is to prevent nonsmokers from facing the harmful effects of smoking, and several of the banned items, like chewing tobacco, would not endanger other students.
Many students are turning toward alternative methods of nicotine intake, such as vaping over smoking cigarettes.
According to Becky Wexler, the director of media relations for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy organization, that e-cigarettes are increasing rapidly in popularity and have become the most commonly used tobacco product among youth.
In an email to The Hoya, Wexler cited statistics demonstrating an increased prevalence of vaping among high school students, adding, “It is concerning that youth e-cigarette use continues to exceed use of cigarettes and other tobacco products.”
Part of the problem is that manufacturers of e-cigarettes do not have to reveal everything that is in their products, and there have not yet been many studies characterizing vaping’s long-term effects.
Although e-cigarettes appear less dangerous because they lack tar and traditional cigarette toxins, they are not free of harmful effects.
“A Surgeon General’s report issued in December 2016 concluded that youth use of nicotine in any form, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe, can cause addiction and can harm the developing adolescent brain,” Wexler wrote. “A growing number of studies have found that youth who use e-cigarettes are more likely to subsequently use traditional cigarettes.”
The National Institute of Health reports that 30.7 percent of teens who use e-cigarettes are likely to begin smoking cigarettes in the next six months, and a September study showed that teens who use e-cigarettes are more than two times as likely to smoke regular cigarettes.
Thus, the risk vaporizers pose is twofold: Not only are they causing a spike in adolescent nicotine exposure, but they may increase use of cigarettes — ironic considering e-cigarettes were created as a way to help smokers quit. This trend is particularly concerning since cigarettes are the leading cause of preventable death in America, accounting for about one in five deaths.
During the last Washington, D.C. legislative session, the D.C. Council passed three tobacco control laws. One raises the minimum age for tobacco sales to 21; another prohibits the use of tobacco at baseball sporting events; and the third is working to include e-cigarettes in D.C. smoke-free laws.
Tobacco-Free Kids supported the passage of all three laws and is now working to raise the District tobacco tax by two dollars. While Georgetown may be at a standstill regarding smoke regulation, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) appears to be committed to enhancing legislation to reflect the rising trend.
Regarding the use of e-cigarettes as a means to quit smoking, Wexler called for full and immediate FDA regulation of e-cigarettes to fully ascertain the devices’ health risks and potential effects.
“[Regulation is essential] to prevent these products from undermining decades of progress in reducing youth smoking, and to assess and identify which, if any, specific e-cigarettes are effective at helping smokers quit all tobacco products or switch completely away from cigarettes,” Wexler said.
Part of the popularity of e-cigarettes in teens is the wealth of advertising and the ease of purchase and use. NIH statistics show that 70 percent of teenagers are exposed to e-cigarette ads. Additionally, many students experiment with vaporizers and then find themselves intrigued by the variety of flavors and the ease of purchase. For example, Juuls, a popular e-cigarette brand, can be ordered online in minutes. The ability to use vaporizers in a dorm or other campus buildings without detection further popularizes vaping.
Chantell, a sales associate at VaporFi, a vaporizer store just a few blocks from campus on O Street and Wisconsin Avenue, said that about half of her customers are college-aged.
“I think the thrill of it is what people really like,” she said, adding that many clients appreciate that, unlike cigarettes, vaporizers do not smell, and the increased volume of smoke allows you to do tricks when you exhale.
When asked if she believes that most of her clients are using vaporizers to quit smoking, Chantell was adamant: “Yes, absolutely, absolutely. 100 percent. The point of vaping is to get people to stop smoking cigarettes altogether. The objective of vaping is to lower your dosage [of nicotine] until you hit zero, and then you can still smoke and have fun with it.”
The prevalence of vaping on campus has increased in the past few years, bringing to light the question of how the administration should control smoking on campus.
Following the 2016 referendum, some student smokers have switched to e-cigarettes, and many nonsmokers have started to vape. The shift toward a smoke-free campus renders it unclear whether Georgetown aims to protect the health of students who do not smoke, or regulate the decisions of those who do. The fate of smoking at Georgetown remains uncertain — perhaps the time has come for another referendum.