Ron Medvescek, Arizona Daily Star

The Tucson Unified School District is looking to ban the use of e-cigarettes by students, staff and the public on school grounds.

While the possession or use of tobacco products is already prohibited on TUSD campuses, the district is considering adding electronic cigarettes to the ban to "get with the times."

The use of e-cigarettes has grown over the last couple of years, considered by some to be a healthier alternative to smoking because they do not contain tobacco. In some cases, e-cigarettes have become cheaper than the real thing, which has contributed to the boost in popularity.

Because electronic cigarettes have varying levels of nicotine, they are generally not sold to children unless they are nicotine-free.

The problem for school officials and others is that the two types of e-cigarettes look identical, so they would have no way of telling whether the user has a nicotine-free device or not.

There is also a question of whether use by young people could lead to smoking real cigarettes.

"It's too new to say if it will lead to actual use, but if they're already picking up and inhaling, how hard is it to switch to a real cigarette?" said Stephen Michael, director of the Arizona Smokers Helpline. "It makes sense intuitively, but we don't have the research."

There are additional health concerns because it is not yet clear how safe e-cigarettes are. The levels of nicotine in the devices are not consistent across brands, and the vapors created by igniting the fluids in the e-cigarettes have not been tested for safety.

The Arizona Smokers Helpline does not recommend using e-cigarettes as a smoking-cessation technique.

"You may get less poison than you would from a cigarette by using an e-cigarette, but the addictive factor is still there," Michael said.

"You're still going through the same motions, and going back to smoking is too easy."

TUSD is not the only government entity looking askance at e-cigarettes. Several states have imposed bans. Several airlines have done likewise.

Arizona State University is also going smoke-free as of Aug. 1 and e-cigarettes are included in the prohibition.

While the city of Tucson bans smoking tobacco on city property, it has not considered a policy or ordinance prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes.

But the Pima County Board of Supervisors agreed in November to make all county properties tobacco-free, which includes smokeless and chewing tobacco, water pipes and e-cigarettes.

The TUSD policy is scheduled to come before the Governing Board on Tuesday.

E-cigarettes at a glance

How to comment

To review TUSD's proposed policy and provide feedback, go to tusd1.org/contents/govboard/polreview.html

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea