According to a survey done by UNC researchers, approximately 80 percent of North Carolina hospitals have a written policy regarding the use of E-cigarettes. Research associate Clare Meernik said the vast majority of these hospitals ban the use of E-cigarettes anywhere on their campus.

“I think it’s a really necessary step, there are a lot of unanswered questions about E-cigarettes,” said Meernik. “We are still unclear about the health effects of E-cigarettes and especially long term health effects; it hasn’t been around and studied long enough so it’s really important that hospitals and health care organizations kind of take the lead in this.”

Many hospitals have added E-cigarettes to their tobacco-free policies, which Meernik said is a step in the right direction, but since E-cigarettes are relatively new, people might be unsure of what the rules are.

“A lot of people are just unclear about the policy, whether they’re patients or visitors at a hospital and there is not proper signage or a lack of signage surrounding what the policies are regarding tobacco-free or smoke-free,” said Meerknik.

E-cigarettes use a small battery to vaporize a liquid that usually contains nicotine to simulate a smoking experience.

“Particularly when the tobacco-free or smoke-free policy incorporates E-cigarettes, a lot of times signage isn’t clear that E-cigarettes are banned, it might just say smoke-free or tobacco-free,” said Meernick.

While many might view E-cigarettes as a healthy alternative to traditional cigarettes, Meernik worries that their acceptance might backtrack on the negative stigma around public smoking.

“You see someone smoking an E-cigarette and it’s kind of re-normalizing that smoking behavior and taking a step back on the progress we’ve made of de-normalizing smoking in public places,” said Meernik.

This is the first study of E-cigarette polices in hospitals in the state and Meernik said so far she has seen strong support and little resistance to hospitals banning E-cigarettes.

Durham County also incorporated E-cigarettes into the county’s smoking ban starting January 1.

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