On Jan. 9, 2017, the Tennessee Department of Health issued a new public health advisory on e-cigarettes. While e-cigarettes have been banned from ETSU for years, they have a well-known presence on our campus.

In this advisory Commissioner of TDH John Dreyzehner stated, “Our ongoing review of research gives us significant concerns about the negative impacts e-cigarettes and similar devices can have for those who use them, for those who are exposed to second-hand emissions and for children who may swallow chemicals or batteries.”

Early in the lifespan of e-cigarettes, you could hear vapers and those who sold e-cig paraphernalia touting that, “It’s just water, man,” in response to concerns over secondhand exposure. While a 2013 study showed that secondhand exposure to e-cigs is less dangerous than secondhand exposure to traditional cigarettes, this same study also proved that both generations of tobacco products increase the amounts of nicotine in the air. Even this smaller amount of nicotine could have negative consequences on children, pregnant women and those with cardiovascular conditions.

If you’re walking around with an e-cig right now, you’re casually carrying an item that could create a health risk for any of these groups. If you’re puffing up in the Culp, in class or at the club, you’re putting these people at risk, and you have no way of knowing if you’re sharing the room with someone whose body cannot handle exposure to these toxins.

By far the most dangerous aspect of e-cigarettes is that there has not been enough research done on their potential side effects. Until 2016, there were no FDA regulations on e-cigarettes or e-liquids. This could have affected all previous studies, including the 2013 study cited above. Without regulation, it is hard to select a representative sample of e-cigs or liquids to test. Each piece of hardware could be designed differently; each “juice” could have its own formulation (with little or no consideration of what ingredients might be harmful to the user or those nearby).

The American Lung Association has a roundup of information relating to e-cigarettes, and the group describes some of the harmful ingredients that manufacturers were able to slip in before FDA oversight began. The list includes formaldehyde, diacetyl (which can cause “popcorn lung”), and chemicals that are more commonly seen in anti-freeze.

Overall, the ALA warns that flavorings in the liquid may be claimed to be safe because they are safe to eat, but “safe to eat” does not mean “safe to inhale.” A replication of the 2013 study is needed to test secondhand exposure to these other chemicals and to the FDA-regulated e-liquids that are on the market now.

Until enough research has been done and manufacturers have fully switched away from harmful ingredients, those who choose to use e-cigarettes need to recognize the responsibility they carry. While vaping may just be another activity for you, many of us do not want to be exposed or can not afford to be exposed.

Watch out for those around you, and abide by ETSU’s tobacco-free policy: keep your vape to yourself.