Karina Paci, a second-year medical student who is involved at the UNC Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program, said the surveys were distributed to all of the hospitals listed under the North Carolina Hospital Association, and asked if the hospital had a policy that banned electronic cigarettes.
“We were really trying to start to get an idea of what North Carolina was doing as far as e-cigarettes are concerned,” Paci said.
She said e-cigarette research is limited because it takes many years to see definitive health effects, and these bans could prevent the possibility of finding out about the risks of e-cigarettes too late.
“We are hoping that hospitals just wanting to promote healthy environments for everyone involved will go ahead and prohibit the use of e-cigarettes,” Paci said. “Being the first statewide assessment of electronic cigarette use across hospitals, this study can pave the way for further research regarding electronic cigarette use and policies nationwide.”
Cindy Taylor, director of Environmental Health and Safety for UNC Health Care, said the hospital updated its existing tobacco-free campus policy in 2013 to prohibit the use of any nicotine delivery device, including e-cigarettes, that is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
She said the main reasons for this policy shift were because e-cigarettes have not been approved by the FDA, have the potential to cause respiratory problems and are known fire hazards.
“You know, being in a hospital, you don’t want to ever do anything that’s going to lead to a fire, obviously, because our patients are incapacitated,” she said.
Taylor said other FDA-approved nicotine delivery devices that help with smoking cessation, like nicotine gum or patches, are provided for patients who are nicotine users.
Thaddeus Berglund, a junior at UNC who has been using an e-cigarette for two years, said he originally started because he wanted to quit smoking cigarettes — a tactic he said hasn’t worked well, since he is still fairly dependent on nicotine.
“To me, the buzz of a real cigarette is something you really can’t beat or try and mimic well,” he said in an email. “However, I always feel more guilty about smoking one than I do about puffing on my e-cig.”
According to the Mayo Clinic’s patient education brochure, e-cigarettes are not recommended by the clinic to help patients stop smoking, or to act as an alternative to cigarettes.
Berglund said, while he knows any kind of smoking isn’t good for him, he doesn’t need research to tell him that e-cigarettes are better than regular ones — he can feel the difference between vaping and smoking in his throat and lungs.
He said he agreed with the hospital policy, and wouldn’t mind putting away his e-cigarette in that circumstance.
“It is important to have air and sanitation and contamination regulations (in hospitals),” Berglund said. “People really hardly ever want to be there, so I can make a sacrifice to make it comfortable for them.”