Oklahoma State University Regents defend on-campus ban of e-cigarettes

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Regents who govern the Oklahoma State University system voted unanimously to ban e-cigarettes and other personal vaporizers on the main campus in Stillwater.

Advocates for vapor devices decried the new policy, which aligns with a public policy shift pressed by the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET), a state agency created to combat tobacco use.

The regents, meeting at Langston University, amended “OSU policy 1-0530 Tobacco Use in University Buildings and Grounds” to include the non-tobacco products

The Student Government Association at OSU’s Stillwater campus supported the ban, although a few student senators voted against it. Donnie Joe Worth, the associate chairman, told Regents the group backed the new policy

Courtney Smith, secretary for the Oklahoma Vapor Advocacy League (OVAL), told Oklahoma Watchdog the Board of Regents “appeared to base their decision to ban electronic cigarettes on the uninformed opinions of the Student Government instead of the professional medical opinion of the 17th Surgeon General of the United States and over 15 scientific studies proving the benefit of vapor products.”

In response to questions from Oklahoma Watchdog, Tucker Link, chairman of the OSU/A&M Board said, “The ban complements Oklahoma State’s smoke-free campus initiative, which was a vital step in our pursuit of becoming one of the healthiest campus environments in the country and reversing the historic unhealthy trends in Oklahoma. As Regents, we are confident we made the best decision for the greater good of our university community.”

Andy Lester, an Edmond attorney and member of the board, told Oklahoma Watchdog, “Any time an issue such as this comes along, one should be extremely cautious about putting a limit on people. In this case, a campus wide ban was a big step. Of course OSU passed a campus wide ban on tobacco use some years ago, and our experience has been that was successful in reducing tobacco use. Time will tell if that is the case here, but we think it will help reduce the use of tobacco.”

OVAL provided studies, articles, and letters to the regents after a late October decision delayed consideration of the ban

Smith, proprietor of E-VapesOK, an Oklahoma City business, said material provided to Regents demonstrated there are “no health concerns from vapor products.  It is troubling that a university with the national accreditation as Oklahoma State University, would base its decisions on mere speculation instead of scientific data that it prides itself in.”

Regents Chairman Link said, “We delayed a decision six weeks to allow opponents and proponents an opportunity to present us with information so we could be ensured of having a meaningful discussion and making an informed decision.” 

Smith and Sean Gore, OVAL’s chairman, attended Friday’s Regents meeting, which came as a major winter storm blanketed the Sooner State. 

Prof. Todd Malicoate, an OSU professor said “it’s very clear” to him that personal vapor devices are safe.

Malicoate has spoken against the ban in numerous interviews with state reporters, who are beginning to focus on the issue.

The anti-vapes push from the statewide endowment, which has a budget of $39 million, was not raised at the Regents’ meeting, but was likely a sub-text in the push for the Stillwater ban.

Recently enacted municipal ordinances banning public use of e-cigarettes have passed in Ada and Shawnee, but the proposal in Tahlequah was rebuffed after a month-long debate.

In the latter case, local officials testified TSET was dangling higher grants in return for a ban on vapor devices.

Last week, TSET’s push to forbid e-cigarettes on public property drew attention from Jennifer Palmer, a reporter for The Oklahoman. In 2013, for the first time since TSET was created by voter referendum in 2004, qualifications for the most lucrative TSET grants to municipal governments and other recipients were amended to include “smokeless tobacco products on all city-owned properties indoors and outdoors, including chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes.” 

You may contact Pat at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com