Lift the ban on e-cigarettes

CAMPUS ISSUES: The incoming ban on consuming tobacco products on campus goes too far by banning e-cigarettes, which are far less harmful.

For decades, American society has been moving toward a complete ban on smoking tobacco. Since about the mid-20th century, when scientific studies revealing the drug’s devastating effects on the human body were made public, public policy and social attitudes have shifted more and more against tobacco. This is a good thing.

But in executing its well-intentioned ban on consuming tobacco products on University of California campuses, the university administration’s prohibition of e-cigarettes is a step too far. These means of taking in tobacco can help get smokers off conventional cigarettes, and there’s no conclusive proof that there are negative effects for bystanders. Simply put, e-cigarettes shouldn’t affect people who haven’t made the decision to put themselves at risk.

It’s also a point of contention as to how detrimental e-cigarettes even are to oneself. One researcher, Boston University professor Michael Siegel, who is advocates banning cigarettes, doesn’t believe we should restrict e-cigarettes the same way we do “conventional” cigarettes, according to the East Bay Express. Furthermore, according to a study published in the esteemed British medical journal the Lancet, e-cigarettes were “modestly effective” at reducing smokers’ dependency on tobacco — much like the commercially available (and UC-permitted) nicotine patches.

It doesn’t seem there are obvious negative externalities to the use of e-cigarettes. If that’s the case, then what’s the basis of the ban? Tobacco Free Berkeley project manager Steve Maranzana illustrated one justification when he told the East Bay Express that the university wants “to steer people towards quitting resources that have been proven to be effective and FDA-approved.”

In the context of a “better safe than sorry” approach, the university’s decision to include prohibiting e-cigarettes in its tobacco ban makes sense, as does the idea that the university wants people to use federally sanctioned “quitting resources.” But just because the university wants to play it safe or tell people to use one kind of quitting product, that doesn’t mean it gets to have that authority.

Banning e-cigarettes is an excessive intrusion on the judgment and lifestyle of members of the UC community. Individuals should have the ability to reason for themselves if e-cigarettes are the right choice for them, and they should also be the ones to determine whether they want to use UC-recommended or FDA-approved methods.

And if people decide to use e-cigarettes while not creating a problem for anyone else, why should the university get to take away that option?