Editorial: Don’t vape, or do

It’s actually happened. 

Almost overnight, Muhlenberg’s once-nebulous anti-smoking policy, now years in the making, has become as real and solid as the metal signposts newly erected around campus that proclaim its existence. 

What does this policy change about the way campus life will roll from now on? Well, not much, really. Perpetrators found to be in violation of the policy will be issued verbal warnings, which, if not heeded, may result in “sanctions in accordance with applicable College policies,” according to the policy’s official write-up. Visitors found in repeated violation of the policy could be asked to leave campus – that is, to indulge in their habits on 23rd or 26th Street instead. Life will go on, even if it is just made a bit harder for the workers who gather to smoke and talk after a long shift.

There’s a qualifying statement in this policy, though, nestled neatly and cozily in the middle of a list, that students might not initially expect. The idea of a “smoke-free campus,” at least in the traditional sense, calls up the banishment of toxic clouds, decaying lungs; when one thinks of “smoking,” they tend to picture a cigarette dangling carelessly from between the index and middle finger, issuing a stream of darkness. Our “smoke-free campus” policy, though, has both feet firmly planted in the post-millennial age: the policy includes not just cigarettes, but “e-cigarettes, juuls or other vaping devices” and more.

So smoke can be clear, and the “devices” used to create it can be concealed, cradled in the crook of a thumb. Though it might be surprising to see the college’s administration crack down on such a widespread practice in such a tangible sense, it’s not hard to see why they’re tempted to quash this particular trend. In the past few months, news outlets have expounded the dangers of vaping more than ever, touting terrifying cases in which everyone from the old and ill to the young and healthy have fallen prey to the vitriol that are e-cigarettes. 

And who can blame them? When stories arise in which college sophomores quite literally cough holes in their lungs (as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer) or 16-year-olds face nine days on ventilators after vaping nearly 100 times per day (as reported by WTHR Channel 13), when six people have died in the past month and up to 450 people have been diagnosed with serious illnesses in the US in connection to vaping, it’s hard not to jump to the obvious warning: “don’t vape.” 

But this kind of logic rarely ever makes an impact – in most cases, it seems, such warnings encourage the use of underground products, which in turn increases the risk of harm. Though the reason that e-cigarettes are causing illness has not yet been determined, CNN Health reports that an array of products could lie among the culprits; everything from e-cigarettes “containing cannabinoid products,” like THC, to high levels of vitamin E acetate found in candy-flavored vape juice. 

According to CBS, the FDA will only be able to review and regulate vape ingredients as of May 2020 – and that’s to say nothing for those e-cigarettes produced and refilled outside the government’s radar. Still, authorities like Johns Hopkins Medical Center cite vaping as “less harmful” than traditional cigarettes whilst steadfastly condemning their use in the next breath (no pun intended).

Is the Muhlenberg Weekly, your steadfast campus newspaper since 1883, going to tell you to cast aside your Juuls, to smash your e-cigarettes to a pulp, to throw your cartridges in the brink along with the manual cigarettes from the Stone Age? No. But we’re not going to encourage you to blow berry-flavored clouds into the faces of your fellow classmates as you lean under those shiny new smoke-free signs, either. 

Our piece of advice? Get informed. Make sure you have an idea of what you’re putting into your body and what you can expect from it in return. Advocate for regulation and legalization of substances that might pose risks if obtained underground. Don’t vape. Or do. That choice, in the end, belongs to you.

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