A memo released Tuesday by Chancellor John Sharp announced a ban on vaping throughout the Texas A&M System, though details of the ban remain somewhat up in the air as system institutions work to implement the policy.
Sharp’s memo cited a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has recorded 805 cases of lung injury and a dozen deaths in which a history of e-cigarette use or vaping was a common factor.
“We, as a society, are facing a serious health risk that we are just beginning to understand,” Sharp wrote.
The chancellor emphasized the urgency of his concerns, directing the leaders of the A&M system’s 11 universities and eight state agencies to put the ban in place “as soon as is practical.”
“I would like to see the ban in place today,” Sharp wrote. “But I understand the practicalities of running major institutions.”
In College Station, the policy is on its way to becoming a reality, though an official timeline has not been announced. A university statement released Tuesday evening by Amy Smith, senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer, said University President Michael K. Young has initiated a planning process for the ban’s rollout.
“President Young is meeting with university leadership who will confer with student, staff and faculty leaders and will determine the precise timeline and expectations for the flagship to comply with this directive,” the statement said.
Sharp credited Young with inspiring him to call for the ban, writing in his memo that Young’s actions “could be saving the lives of those within The Texas A&M System.”
To avoid taking “unnecessary chances” with the health of students, faculty and staff, Sharp said the mandatory ban will be extended to “every inch” of the A&M System, including every building, outside space, parking lot, garage and laboratory.
“The ban also should extend to every facility of our $950 million research enterprise and all System properties in the 250 Texas counties in which the Texas A&M System has a presence,” Sharp wrote.
In his memo, Sharp also said it would be “appropriate and responsible” to end the sale of e-cigarette products or vaping paraphernalia if there are any such points of sale within the system.
Tim Eaton, executive director of marketing and communications for the A&M System, said the chancellor’s decision has put the system on the “cutting edge” of this issue.
“A lot of the news that has come out about vaping and its dangers has the system and the chancellor concerned, and concerned enough to take some pretty serious action,” Eaton said.
As described by the memo, this ban will be distinct from the system’s policy on smoking, which Sharp noted is banned across most, but not all, system property.
On the flagship campus, university rules on smoking and tobacco currently apply to traditional forms of smoking such as cigarettes and pipes as well as all forms of smokeless tobacco and vaping products. According to the rules, use of all these is generally limited to designated spaces at least 25 feet away from university buildings.
Lt. Bobby Richardson with the Texas A&M University Police Department said officers respond to reported violations of these rules, with most calls coming in on home football game days.
Across the country, other schools and colleges including Kent State and the University of Akron have placed total bans on vaping or simply added e-cigarettes to their broader campus-wide bans on tobacco products. The City University of New York’s prohibition of vaping extends to individual vehicles parked in campus parking lots.
As students returned to school in Maine this semester, the state rolled out a ban on vaping across all its campuses. In Massachusetts, the sale of all vaping products will be suspended for at least four months following an order from Gov. Charlie Baker.
Back in Aggieland, A&M’s ban will inevitably have its own effects on sales in the surrounding community, said Vapor Cave general manager Michael Claus. He said he disagrees with the decision to crack down specifically on vaping while cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products are still allowed in some areas.
However, vaping is enjoying a particular bump in popularity among young people. The Food and Drug Administration’s National Youth Tobacco Survey found that 3.6 million middle and high school students were current e-cigarette users in 2018, up from 2 million the year before.
As Inside Higher Ed reports, “College administrators are inheriting a group of students who find e-cigarettes quite appealing.”
With more research needed to understand the long-term effects of these relatively new devices, Eaton said the A&M System’s move to ban vaping could help prevent issues down the road.
“I think there will be a lot of students that will be glad that any health threats will be hopefully avoided,” Eaton said.