Researchers from Boston University’s School of Public Health published a study Feb. 1 that found one in five teenagers who use e-cigarettes as their first nicotine product will eventually go on to smoke traditional cigarettes.
Michael Siegel, a tobacco control expert and community health sciences professor in SPH, said that the study’s findings don’t necessarily state that e-cigarettes lead youths to start smoking.
“It is critical to stress that basically what the study showed is that kids who experiment with e-cigarettes are more likely to later on experiment with tobacco cigarettes,” Siegel said. “… Youths who tend to experiment with one type of substance are almost invariably going to be more likely to experiment with another type of substance, and so that really is what the study is showing.”
Siegel said that young people who try e-cigarettes and like and continue using them won’t bother smoking traditional cigarettes.
“The ones who start smoking are the ones who may have tried an e-cigarette, and it didn’t really do that much for them,” Siegel said. “Then, they say I’m going to go try a real cigarette, and they ended up smoking, so it’s kind of the opposite of what a lot of people are portraying this as.”
Theodore Kwong, senior communications manager for the popular e-cigarette brand JUUL Labs, wrote in an email that the company is committed to working with national and local government agencies, as well as community organizations, in an effort to stop youth consumption of their products.
“We cannot be more emphatic on this point: no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL,” Kwong wrote. “We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes if youth use continues unabated.”
BU Assistant to the Dean of Students Katherine Cornetta said BU has had a ban on smoking since before she began working at the university 15 years ago. Only recently, she said, have e-cigarettes entered the conversation.
“E-cigarettes or vaping materials aren’t allowed in the residence halls,” Cornetta said. “Individual buildings have their own policies. For example, Questrom School of Business has signs up that ask people not to smoke within a certain amount of feet of the building, and that includes e-cigarettes last I had heard.”
Cornetta said the DoS office likes to consider student input when making decisions, and that the ongoing e-cigarette research from BU will help inform their future policy making.
“If students came to us and said they really felt strongly about a ban on vaping on campus, or if the student government came to us and said, ‘Hey, this is what we are hearing from the students, and this is a major concern,’ then we would take it up further and enact more policies about it,” Cornetta said. “Similarly, if say, it went the other direction, then we would talk about that, too.”
Andrew Chiao, senate chair of BU’s student government, said he has worked on a policy to limit cigarette use on campus sidewalks to combat the effects of secondhand smoke.
“The Dean of Students was not receptive to that, basically saying that they did not want to limit the individual rights and liberties of students to smoke in public spaces where it is allowed,” Chiao said.
Vaping is too new of a public health issue for a ban to be made based on scientific evidence alone, he said, so such a ban would have to be based off student opinion.
Molly Neylan, a senior in College of Communication, said she does not see vaping on campus as a problem.
“It seems like more of a trend than something that people do to quit cigarettes,” Neylan said. “It seems like something they pick up instead rather than taking up cigarettes.”
Victoria Alvarez, a junior in College of Arts and Sciences, said she thinks there is not enough information about e-cigarettes available yet to say exactly how it impacts people’s health.
“If you vape, you probably are not going to do cigarettes,” Alvarez said, “but we really don’t know the consequences yet. My friends and I just decided to stop because we don’t know the health risks, and it’s probably not great for you.”