STILLWATER — Some days, you can see Todd Malicoate sitting in the Seretean Center for the Performing Arts at Oklahoma State University, puffing away at something that looks like a gadget from a science fiction movie.
After smoking cigarettes for nearly 30 years, Malicoate, an OSU music professor, recently switched to an e-cigarette. But a proposed policy change could force Malicoate to leave campus to use the device.
OSU officials plan to bring a new policy banning e-cigarettes before the Board of Regents for Oklahoma State University and the A&M Colleges at a meeting Friday.
Malicoate has taught at OSU for four years. Before he began using an e-cigarette, he walked across the street, just off campus, to smoke. Most of the faculty members who smoked either left campus or found corners and doorways where they could hide, he said.
Since he switched to an e-cigarette, Malicoate said he hasn't heard any complaints about the vapor the device emits. It doesn't smell bad like cigarettes do, he said, and it doesn't make a mess. He doesn't see the need to ban the device, he said.
“I just think it's silly,” he said. “I just don't get it.”
E-cigarettes are a smokeless way to ingest nicotine, although some users choose products without nicotine. Instead of smoke, the devices emit vapor. OSU's proposal would extend the tobacco ban to cover e-cigarettes and other products, including hookahs and clove cigarettes.
OSU launched a policy in 2007 banning the use of tobacco anywhere on campus. Although university officials considered including e-cigarettes in the 2007 policy, not enough information about the devices existed to make a decision at that time, OSU spokesman Gary Shutt said.
OSU wouldn't be the first university to ban the devices on campus. According to the University of Central Oklahoma's 2013-14 Code of Student Conduct, both tobacco and “simulated tobacco products that imitate or mimic tobacco products,” including e-cigarettes, are banned on campus.
The University of Oklahoma's campus tobacco policy bans cigarettes anywhere on campus but allows e-cigarettes outdoors.
Ohio State University plans to ban e-cigarettes as a part of its new tobacco-free policy, which goes into effect in January. Officials at the University of Iowa are considering a similar ban.
Last year, Gov. Mary Fallin signed an executive order banning the use of tobacco products on state property, including college campuses.
While that order doesn't cover e-cigarettes, several agencies also banned their use on state property when they implemented the policy, said Steve Mullins, Fallin's general counsel.
Although the devices are widely seen as a safer alternative to cigarettes, Ted Wagener, a researcher at the OU Health Sciences Center, said little research has been done on the health effects of e-cigarette vapor.
E-cigarette vapor is less toxic than secondhand smoke, Wagener said, but it does contain carcinogens.
Vapor also exposes the user to levels of nicotine that are comparable to those in cigarette smoke, he said.
“It's not safe,” he said. “But it's safer than regular cigarette smoke.”
The regents meet at 10 a.m. Friday in room 412 in OSU's Student Union in Stillwater.