When first-year business major Weston Hopkins is stressed, he pulls out a small device and puffs, releasing a cloud of vapor into the air.
He doesn’t have to go outside. There is no smell of burning paper, just the sweet scent of whatever flavor he is trying that day.
Instead of smoking cigarettes, Hopkins smokes electronic cigarettes.
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, start with a cartridge filled with liquid that turns into water vapor, creating the feeling of smoking a regular cigarette.
For some, e-cigarettes are a way to quit. For others, they are a novelty.
One in five adult consumers of cigarettes have tried electronic cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“At first they were just fun,” Hopkins said. “I had no intention to quit with them.”
After e-cigarettes were further developed, Hopkins started to change his mind. He smoked cigarettes for about four years until he and his friend decided to use e-cigarettes to try to quit.
During Christmas break in his hometown of Orange County, Ca., Hopkins went to a “vape” shop, where e-cigarettes are sold and bought an e-cigarette kit.
“I got a vape pen to bring back with me,” he said. “I haven’t smoked cigarettes since.”
Vaping in Fort Worth
According to the TCU Student Handbook, smoking is only allowed outside on TCU’s campus, and it must be 25 feet away from an entrance or exit to a university building.
Violators of this rule could face disciplinary action, according to the handbook.
Right now, however, there are no restrictions on vaping. That could change, administrators say.
Campus Life and Alcohol and Drug Education are leading a discussion to investigate university policy on e-cigarettes, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Kathy Cavins-Tull wrote in an email.
While e-cigarettes may not be as popular with TCU students yet, vape shops are opening all over Fort Worth, said a worker at Wild Valley Electronic Cigarette Co.
“Most college students are one-time buyers,” she said.
Workers at Wild Valley estimated that TCU students only made up 5 percent of their client base.
“It’s more of a fashion statement for TCU students,” one said. “I think what I’ve seen on most college campuses is that they want to try it, they want to experiment with it.”
A starter kit at Wild Valley costs around $39.99. Kits can also be bought at regular smoke shops, like Fusion on Berry Street, or at convenience stores.
The e-cigarette industry is expected to make more than $1 billion in 2014, according to industry estimates.
Silda Nikaj, an assistant professor of health economics, said e-cigarette marketing has no restrictions.
“These people are not just marketing to smokers,” Silda said.
Nikaj said she fears that students who have never smoked before might turn to e-cigarettes.
“If you hook somebody, you have a smoker for life because it’s so addictive,” she said. “Not just get young people to smoke, but also people who would have quit.”
The flavors of e-cigarette “juice,” or the mixture that is vaporized, market to younger people, Nikaj said.
Users can buy juice in gummy bear, chocolate and even Dr. Pepper flavors.
“I think younger people are going to pick it up in large numbers,” Silda said.
Rules and regulations
Part of what makes e-cigarettes so appealing, Nikaj said, is that users can smoke them in restaurants and bars.
“I just don’t think there’s as much stigma associated with it,” she said.
At Blue Mesa Grill, less than a mile north of the TCU campus, e-cigarette users are allowed to smoke in the bar area of the restaurant.
“We don’t really have a policy on them – it depends on how busy we are,” said Delilah Jones, a hostess. “During happy hour, people smoke them at the bar.”
At Café Brazil on Berry Street, customers are allowed to smoke e-cigarettes inside the restaurant.
“I’ve seen quite a few of them in here,” waitress Chelsie Edmondson said.
There are no national restrictions on e-cigarettes yet, so city governments and business owners have to come up with their own rules, Nikaj said.
City Attorney Sarah Fullenwider said Fort Worth has not made laws for e-cigarettes yet.
Recently, Joel Burns, representative for Council District 9, asked staff members to look into how other cities regulate e-cigarettes, Fullenwider said.
She said the staff report is still in “very preliminary stages” and has not been brought back yet.
Nikaj said Fort Worth will look at what other cities are doing to regulate e-cigarettes to get ideas before deciding anything.
Fort Worth Independent School District board members, however, have already made a decision on e-cigarettes.
Since Feb. 25, e-cigarettes have been banned on all FWISD properties.
Some cities around the Dallas-Fort Worth area have also passed ordinances on e-cigarettes.
Since March 8, e-cigarette vaping in Frisco is illegal anywhere smoking is prohibited. E-cigarettes were officially added to the definition of smoking.
The ordinance also banned e-cigarette sales, possession and use by people under 18 years of age.
A Healthier Habit?
“The biggest problem is that we just don’t know a lot about e-cigarettes,” Nikaj said. “We don’t know what the long-term effects of them are.”
Nikaj recently attended a conference on the tobacco industry where the main topic of conversation was e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes do not contain many ingredients found in regular cigarettes, Nikaj said. But because of a lack of regulation, there could be new ingredients that are harmful.
“There’s no burning in e-cigarettes, so there’s no tar,” Nikaj said.
Nikaj said exposure to tar can lead to lung cancer, emphysema and bronchial disorders.
It may take a while for the Food and Drug Administration to rule on e-cigarettes, Nikaj said. Because nicotine is a drug, any nicotine products have to go through three clinical trials.
“None of them have been approved by the FDA as a smoking cessation aid,” she said. “Hopefully [the FDA] will be able to say something on how much and where.”
Insiders on Vaping
“It’s not the same [as cigarettes], but it’s kind of close enough,” Hopkins said. “The hit of a cigarette is more intense and more satisfying.”
Hopkins said it is hard to quit smoking with e-cigarettes, but not impossible.
“It works sometimes. It doesn’t work sometimes,” he said. “But I definitely wanted to quit.”
Over time, Hopkins said he has adjusted the amount of nicotine he gets from his e-cigarette from 12 mg to 6 mg.
Unlike Hopkins, some students do not use e-cigarettes to quit.
First year pre-business major Tanner Stuewe said he smokes e-cigarettes without the nicotine.
“I’ve never smoked cigarettes before,” Stuewe said. “It’s just nice to have something in your mouth to smoke.”
Stuewe, a native of Round Rock, Texas, said he has at least three friends who smoke them.
“It’s a lot bigger in Austin than here,” he said.
Hopkins said that, as a smoker, the taste of the e-cigarette is different because it is really sweet.
“They taste like a hit of sugar,” he said. “It takes some getting used to.”
For Hopkins, e-cigarettes are the best option.
“I think it’s healthy enough and worth the trade-off,” he said.