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What Do You Think About E-Cigarettes in Libraries?

   August 21st, 2013

e-cigaretteMassachusetts has a state-wide library email discussion list, and lately I've been following with interest a discussion about whether or not e-cigarettes should be allowed in libraries.

The sentiment seems to be coming down on the "not allowed" side, which is where I am, too. I have not encountered one in my library, but other Massachusetts libraries have - one even felt the "e-smoker" (a.k.a., apparently, "vaper") was actually trying to pick a policy fight because he had a bunch of pro-e-cigarette material at the ready.

I've done some light research on this since the discussion started, and was surprised to find out the FDA's position is basically "needs more study, so in the meantime we're erring on the side of caution." The Mayo Clinic feels the same way: "Until more is known about the potential risks, the safe play is to say no to electronic cigarettes."

That alone is enough to sway me into the "not in libraries" camp, but I was also curious about the effectiveness of them as a smoking cessation tool. Marketing for e-cigarettes seems to be all over the map, from cessation to a healthier alternative to a method to still accommodate the smoking habit in smoke-free zones. Which is what marketing is supposed to do: appeal to everyone and anyone in order to sell sell sell.

However, WebMD had an interesting point regarding cessation and health-related side-effects:

Rather than quit, e-cigarettes might worsen users' nicotine habits, says Michael Eriksen, ScD, director of the institute of public health at Atlanta's Georgia State University and former director of CDC's office of smoking and health.

"I have seen no evidence that people switch from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes or other smokeless tobacco products," Eriksen tells WebMD. "If you look at how smokeless products are marketed, they are sold as something to use at times you can't smoke. The implication is you will increase nicotine exposure, not reduce smoking. We'll just be encouraging people to use more nicotine."

This might be true because of how e-cigarettes work (also from WebMD):

  • The user inhales through a mouthpiece.
  • Air flow triggers a sensor that switches on a small, battery-powered heater.
  • The heater vaporizes liquid nicotine in a small cartridge (it also activates a light at the "lit" end of the e-cigarette). Users can opt for a cartridge without nicotine.
  • The heater also vaporizes propylene glycol (PEG) in the cartridge. PEG is the stuff of which theatrical smoke is made.
  • The user gets a puff of hot gas that feels a lot like tobacco smoke.
  • When the user exhales, there's a cloud of PEG vapor that looks like smoke. The vapor quickly dissipates.

And if nothing else, it's that last part that, I think, is also a problem for libraries. My library has a policy that prohibits the "use of tobacco products," which may or may not cover e-cigarettes (which actually contain no tobacco). However, I think the vapor put out by e-cigarettes would certainly fall under the "other activities which disrupt the library" part of the policy, because it looks enough like smoking that I'm sure many patrons would not be comfortable with it.

One message to the discussion list said their municipality had already banned them entirely. I'm curious if other libraries have encountered e-cigarettes, and what the library position is. Please let me know what you think in the comments (and being a non-smoker, I'm also interested in the smoker's viewpoint on this).

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16 Responses to “What Do You Think About E-Cigarettes in Libraries?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Smoking is so gauche these days that I prefer to be anonymous! I do smoke sometimes, and I am a librarian in a public library in the Midwest, and I would be against e-cigarettes in my library. Disruptive, yes. Also, some people swear they can smell the vapor. This is a place from which one can freely come and go, not like the DMV or prison, so if you need a smoke, go outside. If it’s hot or cold or raining, don’t smoke. Do I think people might e-cig in the restrooms sometimes? Probably, but I’m not going to worry about that.

  2. What Do You Think About E-Cigarettes in Libraries? Says:

    […] From The Swiss Army Librarian By Brian Herzog: […]

  3. James Garner Says:

    This is an interesting issue that may become more important as e-cigarette use increases. It seems to me the main thing to consider is any harm that could be done to other library patrons by second hand e-cigarette vapor. You cite a few sources that raise the possibility of harm to vapers themselves but not to others. Even if it is true that vapers may be more likely to smoke, how does that harm other library patrons? True, some patrons might consider it disruptive but there is a good chance they are uninformed about the dangers of vaping. Studies show that many people consider nicotine to be carcinogenic and it is not. There are two sides to this issue and people should consider both sides before coming to a conclusion. Some consider e-cigarettes a powerful harm reduction tool that can save the lives of smokers. A couple of sites to find pro e-cigarette views are these:


  4. Sarah Says:

    Public Libraries are a place to do many things, but smoking anything is not one of them. It would be totally disruptive to allow someone to use an “e-cigarette” in the library and I would absolutely ask a patron to go outside if they were using one in my building. And if they tried to debate it I would listen politely for exactly one minute before nipping that conversation in the bud. I think sometimes we’re way more permissive than we should be with patron behavior at times and need to reel it back in.

  5. Emily Says:

    I used an e-cigarette to quit smoking – it worked! It’s not as satisfying as real cigarettes, so it provides a good way to taper off. I’m coming up on three years without smoking.

    They’re not particularly disruptive or obtrusive, as the very slight smell dissipates quickly. If you were smoking one in an isolated corner, no one would be able to tell.

    That being said, they don’t need to be in libraries. Who knows what the vapor does to other people, or the books. That’s a strong enough argument to ban them.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    We have patrons that use e-cigarettes that are flavored, so the vapor comes off smelling like that flavor. (One day- the library smelled like cherries and we couldn’t figure out where the smell was coming from…until we saw the vapor cloud by the computers…) We have a staff member who suffer from server asthma- so our concern is asthma attacks…If we see someone smoking an e-cigarette, we kindly ask them to stop or take it outside.

  7. Kaylin Says:

    People love to play semantics. If the rule is “no smoking in the library” then that includes eCigarettes as well as regular ones. I think it should be as black and white as that.

  8. Rick Says:

    I don’t think they should be allowed for the reasons already stated. It’s funny how things have changed. I remember older librarians telling me that libraries used to have ashtrays out for the public.

  9. Connie Says:

    Hennepin County phased in an “all tobacco products use ban” a couple of years ago. At my location, people have to leave the library and cross the street to smoke. In my first encounter with a vaper, I asked him to stop because it looked as if he were using a Lucky and would give smokers the wrong idea. Just a few weeks ago, the county banned e-cig use on all property, which makes it easier for us.

  10. Marcela Peres Says:

    I work in a public library and we’ve chosen to treat them like cigarettes on the basis that they release a vapor and, as you listed, not enough evidence exists to show that there are or are not secondhand effects. We made this choice in response to several complaints from nearby patrons who were uncomfortable.

  11. janecain Says:

    Brian: how good of you to consider the smokers’ thoughts…as an EX smoker of 17 + years, my thoughts are – “take it outside.” Sorry, but you are visiting our lovely public space… I don’t know much about those e-cigs, but, they are not welcome in our public space that is the P.L.

  12. E-Cigarettes in the Library | The Librarian Is on The Loose Says:

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  13. e cigarette Says:

    Vapor cigarettes are just like typical cigarettes found in convenience stores and supermarkets. It has the same shape, size, and color and also lights up every time you take a drag but the main difference is that vapor or steam cigarettes are operated with rechargeable batteries that sends nicotine to the body through an atomizer and turns liquid nicotine into vapor.

  14. Erin A. Says:

    Hi Brian,

    My sister-in-law, a 47-year smoker, has not smoked a cigarette in nearly two months. She has been using e-cigarettes and every several weeks she lowers her nicotine dosage. Her goal is to quit by the end of September. I think, at least for her, there is a benefit to them. Still, I would treat it as any other smoking device and have them take it outside.


  15. Alyssa Says:

    One of the things I emphasize to my students is that there are just some times and places where you simply can’t do everything you want to whenever you like. Don’t swear in church, don’t go barefoot in a restaurant, don’t smoke in the library. It’s not a bar or your own house – it’s the library.

  16. Laurie Says:

    This is directly from my library’s public policy-
    Patrons who smoke inside the Library will be asked to leave the building for the remainder of the day.
    If the patron persists in smoking, the staff should follow the policies governing disruptive behavior.
    Staff also have the authority to call the police if the problem persists – fines from $100-$250 per
    instance are possible.

    Illinois has some pretty harsh laws about smoking indoors so thankfully our library only has to reinforce them instead of creating them.