EDWARDSVILLE — People puffing on e-cigarettes will have to go outside with their smoking colleagues at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
The university's administration has recently decided that e-cigarettes will be treated the same as regular cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products for the purposes of SIUE's tobacco policy. That means they must step outside at least 15 feet away from an entrance in order to use the electronic cigarettes, which deliver nicotine via water vapor instead of burning smoke into the user's lungs.
Since 2008, smoking has been prohibited in nearly all indoor public places in Illinois. The Smoke-Free Illinois Act did not include e-cigarettes, but some municipalities, including Chicago, have voted to ban them in public places within their borders.
"Because there was no policy in place regarding e-cigarettes, we needed to clear up any ambiguity regarding university policy on the issue," said SIUE spokesman Doug McIlhagga.
McIlhagga said the administration's reasoning was that they do not have evidence that the water vapors given off by e-cigarettes are safe.
Concerns have risen in the last couple of years about selling e-cigarettes' cartridges in candy flavors like bubblegum and soda as making them more attractive to young people. Use of e-cigarettes by high school students doubled in one year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control, and one in 10 high school students has tried an e-cigarette.
Tobacco use among youth had been dropping since 2000.
In 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that using e-cigarettes could increase nicotine addiction in young people and that its safety was not proven. However, the federal government does not currently regulate e-cigarettes under the Tobacco Control Act, so it is up to the individual states to decide if they can be sold to minors.
Last year, 40 state attorneys general, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, wrote a joint letter to the FDA calling on them to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products.
SIUE student government President Alexa Hillery said she supports the university's decision. "It makes sense to draw the line at some point, and not allowing any type of cigarette indoors does not seem too radical of a policy," Hillery said. "I am glad there is discussion of enforcing not smoking near entrances of buildings, which is an issue on our campus. This would be something simple to fix and would alleviate a lot of problems students have with smoking on campus."
Tyler Shearrow, a junior from Loves Park, Ill., said he would like to see consistency in enforcement of the policy indoors and outdoors.
"E-cigarettes are a relatively new thing with young research on the lethality of the secondhand vapor," Shearrow said. "I think the administration took the safest option on the table by banning it, which I'm all for... Part of the decision to ban e-cigarettes indoors is because e-cigarettes give off potentially harmful particles into the air of common areas. The quad and entrances to buildings are also common areas where many students complain about second-hand smoke, but smoking is still allowed in those areas."
McIlhagga said at the moment, smoking is allowed outdoors more than 15 feet from entrances, in compliance with Illinois law. Given the physical size of the campus, most smokers would have to drive several minutes to get off-campus in order to smoke.
"The consideration of a completely smoke-free campus has been discussed by various constituencies on campus, but has not been brought to the vice chancellor for administration or the chancellor for consideration," McIlhagga said.
SIUE is not alone: Lewis & Clark Community College banned e-cigarettes late last year, treating them the same as regular cigarettes. Southwestern Illinois College did the same last month, requiring that students stand at least 15 feet away from entrances and windows to use e-cigarettes.
McKendree University has not yet made a decision on its policy, according to spokeswoman Lisa Brandon.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 239-2507.