Tobacco 101 may not be state mandated, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need it

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Photo Credit: Charlie Hyman | Daily Texan Staff

Everyone got the email. After you finished orientation, you were notified by UT that you had to complete two modules before classes started: AlcoholEdu and Sexual Assault Prevention for Undergraduates, or SAPU. However, this email does not provide students with resources devoted to explaining the dangers of e-cigarettes or tobacco products in general. This is a problem considering the popularity of e-cigarettes despite the vast amount of information on its health dangers.

Incoming students deserve access to information on the health risks posed by tobacco products, especially e-cigs such as Juuls. When UT informs incoming undergraduate students that they’re required to take AlcoholEdu and SAPU, Tobacco 101 should be distributed in the same email. Even if it’s not mandated information, new students deserve access to this information before they start classes at UT.

Nosse Ovienmhada, the wellness manager within UT’s Human Resources department, said Tobacco 101 was created to be similar to AlcoholEdu in terms of accessibility and structure. Its creators, UTHealth’s School of Public Health in Austin and Peers Against Tobacco, a coordinated prevention program for colleges and universities in Texas, designed Tobacco 101 to be a convenient way to inform college students on the health risks of using tobacco products such as hookah, dip and e-cigarettes. 

Despite Tobacco 101’s existence, Ovienmhada said her team has trouble raising awareness for the program. Students either don’t know it exists or they don’t care. 

“We’re going to have this available on our updated Tobacco-Free Campus website, but the thing is, people aren’t (taking Tobacco 101),” Ovienmhada said. “What’s the impetus for people to (go through the modules)? There’s no push for people to do this.”

The Tobacco-Free Campus website Ovienmhada mentioned is part of another initiative to combat the use of e-cigarette and other tobacco products on UT’s campus that’s going unused. This is problematic considering the growing popularity of e-cigs. Juul sales in particular saw an almost 800 percent increase from July 2017 to July 2018.

In an interview with KERA News, Dr. David Balis, a professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center, expressed concern about the long-term health damage of e-cigarettes. According to Balis, e-cigs can serve as a gateway to habitually smoking real cigarettes, especially for those who start using e-cigs during their teenage years.

“Initially, we thought e-cigs might be helpful in getting people to quit traditional cigarettes,” Balis said. “But the data hasn’t borne that out. What we found is that people are just using this as another nicotine delivery device.”

Students can only do so much on their part, such as becoming a Tobacco-Free Campus Ambassador, to combat the use of e-cigs on UT’s campus. The University has to step up and take measures to counteract the misconception that e-cigs are not bad for you like regular cigarettes are  — it’s false, and it’s damaging misinformation.

There is a quick and easy fix: UT should be doing more to help students obtain useful information on the health dangers of e-cigarettes like Juuls. By distributing Tobacco 101 in the same email that includes information about the mandatory AlcoholEdu and SAPU modules, UT could potentially dissuade a new student from taking up Juuling when they come to campus. E-cigs are unhealthy, and new students need to know. 

Caldwell is a Latin American studies and journalism sophomore from College Station