San Luis Obispo recently extended its smoking regulations to include e-cigarettes — but as it turns out, Cal Poly's e-cigarette policies were ahead of the city's. | Joseph Pack/Mustang News

Correction: A previous version of this article stated e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco or carcinogens or produce secondhand smoke. However, according to the San Luis Obispo County Tobacco Control Program (SLOCTCP), the nicotine in e-cigarettes is extracted from tobacco. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration has found carcinogens in e-cigarettes and some studies show evidence of their vapor causing negative secondhand effects. The story has been changed to more accurately reflect the content and effect of e-cigarettes.

Brenna Swanston

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Computer science junior Sam Ochoa has smoked electronic cigarettes on Cal Poly’s campus for most of his college career.

For the past 10 months, Ochoa’s habit has been against university policy — but he, like many electronic cigarette users, had no idea that was the case.

“I was very unaware of that,” he said. “When I did smoke, I was probably one of the first people on campus to have an e-cig in the first place because they just recently blew up. But when you walk around campus now there are people smoking every couple yards on their e-cigs.”

Electronic cigarettes, commonly known as e-cigarettes, are battery-operated inhalers that contain nicotine extracted from tobacco. When users draw on the device, its battery heats a liquid which turns into an inhalable vapor. For this reason, e-cigarette use is called “vaping.”

The devices entered the marketplace in 2003, making their long-term effects unknown for the time being. However, they are often considered a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes because they contain fewer harmful substances in smaller amounts.

Despite this, the San Luis Obispo City Council decided to extend the city’s smoking regulations to include e-cigarettes at a March 3 city council meeting. The decision raised questions among Cal Poly students about how and whether the new rules might affect campus policy, but they turned out not to — the university had already refined its smoking policy to include vaping.

According to Beth Gallagher, Cal Poly’s associate vice president for human resources, the policy permits smoking only in designated areas in the campus core and residential communities. Outside these regions of campus, smoking can take place 20 feet from any building, door, window or air intake.

As of May 2014, Cal Poly defines “smoking” as “inhaling, exhaling, burning or carrying a lighted cigarette, cigar, pipe or any lighted or vaporizing smoking product or device,” Gallagher said.

Cal Poly’s University Housing Community standards policy prohibits “smoking of any substance and or use of any smoking paraphernalia including, but not limited to, tobacco, cigars, electrical cigarettes, pipes [and] hookahs.”

Ochoa said such regulation is unnecessary because e-cigarettes usually don’t bother bystanders.

“Cigarettes I can understand completely why they would have ordinances against smoking in public,” he said. “But in my time of smoking e-cigs, never once has a person complained to me that they didn’t like the smell or it was making them uncomfortable or they couldn’t breathe while they were around me.”

Ochoa said people would even compliment the smell of the e-cigarette’s vapor, which can come in just about any flavor.

“People look at me kind of weird sometimes, probably because they don’t understand the contraption in my hand,” he said. “But they don’t give me dirty looks or anything.”

He knows many traditional cigarette addicts who switched to e-cigarettes because of their supposedly lower health risks.

“I know many people who quit cigarettes and go to vaping,” Ochoa said. “And while maybe they’ll never stop vaping, because it’s kind of like a hobby, the fact that they quit smoking or hookah is very significant.”

However, its exact significance is still unknown. An American Heart Association (AHA) policy statement on e-cigarettes said the efficacy of e-cigarettes as an aid to quit traditional smoking is generally unsupported by scientific evidence because the few existing studies tend to contradict each other.

Ochoa also acknowledged the lack of studies concerning e-cigarettes’ long-term effects.

“While some people are very pro-vape, there are some skeptics that argue the chemicals they used to make the juices in the vape have chemicals that are just as bad for you,” he said.

Business administration graduate student Daniel Cerda is one such skeptic.

Cerda said it’d be safer to treat e-cigarettes like traditional cigarettes until studies can prove their safety in the long run.

“If it shows there is no significant amount of secondhand smoke, there wouldn’t need to be any regulation of it as long as it’s not harming others,” he said. “But until I see conclusive evidence about it, I think they should be regulated like cigarettes.”

AHA also claimed the devices’ variety of flavors could be intended for a child-aged audience, pointing to an increase in e-cigarette use among adolescent students nationwide.

The statement said that due to nicotine’s addictive nature, some public health advocates see the devices “as a route to nicotine addiction and possibly as a potential gateway to tobacco use in youth or nonsmokers and to reinitiation of tobacco product use by former users.”

Even Ochoa eventually felt the toll of nicotine addiction, leading him to quit e-cigarettes three months ago.

“I quit because it became a little bit too much,” he said. “With e-cigarettes you definitely get more of a head buzz than with regular cigarettes because it delivers the nicotine in such an efficient way. But it got to the point where I was smoking it all day every day and I was tired all the time and it was time to quit.”

Biological sciences major and former SLOCTCP intern Sean Lang-Brown brought this article’s previous misinformation to Mustang News’ attention. For more information, visit the SLOCTCP webpage.

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