Op-Ed: E-cigs are a risk to everyone, not just the user

by Diona Shelbourne, Student, CSU East Bay

I thought it was my right to smoke. When people would pass by me and cover their mouths and make a face, I would get irritated. There was enough air for everyone, why were people judging me based on my personal choice?

I continued this way for 10 long years.

Little did I know that my lungs were becoming dangerously fragile. So fragile that one day when I was cleaning, the combination of bleach fumes and a decade of smoking caught up to me. My lung collapsed. I was rushed to the hospital and remained in the ICU for three weeks where I was unable to breathe without the help of a bypass machine.

I was only 33 years old at the time.

The doctors told me I would die if I smoked again and at that moment, my life changed. I wanted to take action.

Currently I am enrolled as a student at CSU East Bay, which like many CSU campuses, private colleges and community colleges, it is not smoke-free. Secondhand smoke is dangerous, but it is especially harmful to students like me, who have severe lung conditions.

Because of my lungs, I can’t be exposed to smoke, even smelling smoke can be potentially life threatening. There have even been days I have had to miss class entirely because I wasn’t able to make it to across campus without coming in contact with smoke.

To make matters worse, cigarettes aren’t the only tobacco-related problem on campus anymore. E-cigarettes are becoming extremely popular and come in a variety of flavors that appeal to young adults. Because they don’t smell like traditional cigarettes, people assume that they are harmless.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

While e-cigarettes may be less harmful than traditional cigarettes, they aren’t safe or harmless, as they are often marketed. Many contain nicotine and a variety of other harmful chemicals.  It’s not harmless water vapor either.

E-cigarettes emit an aerosol, which contains toxins like lead, formaldehyde and nickel, which not only pose health risks to those who use them, but to people around them as well.

Many people think that vaping threatens Big Tobacco, and that using e-cigs is a way to reduce dependence on tobacco. What they don’t realize is that Big Tobacco owns many of the top selling e-cig brands, and profit immensely from their sales.

This makes me feel as if once again tobacco is targeting our schools and our students. This feels personal since I know firsthand how deadly tobacco products can be.

Unfortunately, though Cal State East Bay has had a no smoking policy in place for over a decade, these rules don’t include e-cigarettes.

I have even seen people ‘vaping’ in class.

Ultimately, I believe it is every student’s right to have equal access to education and the ability to attend classes without putting their health at risk, just as I believe students who smoke and vape should know and understand the true risks involved.

We all have the power to decide what to do with our own bodies and health, but we have to stand together to ensure that we are protecting all students from the health risks posed by tobacco in all forms.

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