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Jan 14, 2014 02:08 PM EST

If there was an Oscar for most headline-generating topic in disproportion to actual significance, the electronic cigarette might win that award. People are perhaps more obsessed with the implications of electronic smoking devices than actually smoking (I mean inhaling) them. The latest issue from the world of alternative nicotine sources pertains to college, begging the question, should the devices be banned on campus?

I know what you're thinking. Why would a writer tired of reading about e-cigarettes voluntarily choose to cover the topic? (Yes, I chose this topic; it wasn't assigned.) Most likely, this is a chance to blow off some non-nicotine steam. Also, like the billions of others out there and despite the mass coverage, maybe I'm still intrigued about the possibilities of e-cigs. No, never mind. That's definitely not it. E-cigarettes may be a $580 million industry in Europe (as of Oct. 2013) and project to one day surpass the market for actual cigarettes in the United States, according to one Wall Street analyst, but I don't see it (especially not the latter statement). Since when has an intermediary substance -- especially one more towards the side of quitting -- ever truly caught on? You may recall a smokeless tobacco product called "Snus," which was supposed to be a less harmful version of "dipping" tobacco. It didn't do well.

As for their presence on college campuses, a decent market could have existed (given the sensitivity of dorm room fire alarms, the reluctance of college students to take a smoke break and disturb their studying, etc.) if not for the fact that many schools have banned actual cigarette smoking, according to the Huffington Post. (And a University of Indiana study demonstrated the relative effectiveness of such measures.) I don't have the statistics on this, but I imagine a relatively small number of e-cigarette inhalers don't smoke actual cigarettes. Thus, even though there are "many more questions than answers at this stage," according to a statement made by University of Iowa spokesman Tom Moore to Inside Higher Ed when the university considered banning e-cigarettes in October of 2013 (but ultimately decided not to), banning real cigarettes probably hurts the e-cigarette market rather than fuel it, making the question of whether to also ban e-cigarettes on campus less significant.

Even so, when the California school system banned smoking on campus earlier this year, almost all of the schools also agreed to include e-cigarettes, according to the Huffington Post.

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