E-cigarette emissions are incredibly harmless, and calling them vapor is intentionally misleading, researchers argue. Although the puffs emitted from e-cigarettes aren’t smoke, the term ‘vapor’ usually brings to mind a harmless cloud of water.
Therefore, public health experts argue ‘aerosol‘ is a more correct term, as e-cigarettes clouds have been demonstrated to contain dangerous chemicals that may remain in the air and settle on nearby surfaces.
Smoke-Free Campus Regulations are Needed
The change in the name might sound scrupulous, but new studies suggest it has a massive impact on public policy and how people see their risk of exposure to tobacco products. Comparing three terms for e-cigarette emission among 791 college students, experts found the word ‘vapor’ was associated with a lower sense of risk from secondhand exposure.
At the same time, students who were asked questions using the terms ‘chemicals’ or ‘aerosols’ were twice as likely to identify emissions as harmful or very harmful. These individuals were also more prone to support a 100 percent tobacco-free campus regulation.
“Smoke-free and tobacco-free campus environments are always a common-sense public health measure, and are especially so at this time, given the strong link between tobacco use and COVID-19 transmission among young people,” says public health scientist Matthew Rossheim from George Mason University. “Colleges and universities are encouraged to urgently adopt tobacco-free campus policies to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.”
E-cigarettes Also Emit Harmful Toxicants
Since 2012, the number of universities in the United States that imposed smoking restrictions has more than tripled, but still, 1 in 6 of such campuses do not include e-cigarettes in the equation.
That is an issue, researchers argue, because while regular cigarette smoke may contain numerous toxicants, recent evidence shows e-cigarette clouds still expose other people to nicotine, heavy metals, ultrafine particulates, volatile organic compounds, and many other toxicants. Currently, e-cigarettes are the most used form of tobacco among young people, mainly because they have been marketed as a safe substitute for regular cigarettes.
The U.S. surgeon general has referred to the increase of e-cigarettes use among young people a public health ‘epidemic,’ and experts are concerned it could throw away decades of hard work on tobacco use. Words like ‘vapor,’ which tend to minimize the dangers of secondhand exposure, may actually contribute to such widespread use.
The Terminology Perpetuates Misconceptions
Although keeping the pace with the changing landscape of names, including ‘e-cigarettes,’ ‘e-cigs,’ ‘cigalikes,’ ‘e-hookahs,’ ‘mods,’ ‘vape pens,’ ‘vapes,’ and ‘tank systems, is already a challenge, we need to acknowledge the power of such terminology can have and refrain from using inaccurate words that encourage misconceptions, researchers said.
In a 2016 study on the impression of e-cigarette terminology, for example, found that e-cigarette users do not consider themselves smokers.
“Yeah, it looks like smoke, but you got to correct them if it’s in like a public environment, just so that it’s clarified that it’s vapor,” said one young adult.
“Tobacco control efforts should also be directed to passing new legislation to regulate the marketing practices of the e-cigarette industry so that, among other issues, they do not frame communication to downplay nor deceive the public with regard to the harmfulness of their products,” the authors conclude.
A paper detailing the research was published in the Journal of American College Health.