Editorial: E-cigarettes need rules, regulations

Published 10:23 am Thursday, September 12, 2013

The packaging on electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, doesn’t say much. Which actually is kind of scary. Just what’s being inhaled into the body when “vaping?” Certainly not just vapors, as suggested by the slang verb for puffing on the products. And what’s being exhaled for everyone around to breathe in and ingest?

One thing the packaging does say: e-cigarettes contain nicotine. How much? Doesn’t say, and, according to experts, it can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and from brand to brand. But does it even matter? It’s not like there’s such a thing as a safe amount of the highly addictive, cancer-causing drug nicotine.

Even scarier? E-cigarettes, as addictive, dangerous and harmful to health as they may be, are actively being marketed to kids, just the way tobacco cigarettes used to be. Remember Joe Camel and the portrayal of smoking as cool and hip and what everyone who’s anyone was doing? This time — powered by nearly $21 million in advertising in 2012, according to the New York Times — it’s kid-friendly flavors like watermelon and cookies-and-cream milkshake and the portrayal of vaping as cool and hip and what everyone who’s anyone is doing.

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Unlike tobacco, however — and this may be most troubling of all — kids can buy e-cigarettes easily and legally, including online. And they are. The percentage of U.S. middle school and high school students taking drags on e-cigarettes more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week. In 2012, more than 1.78 million middle school and high school students nationwide had tried e-cigarettes, a precursor to tobacco cigarettes.

So something clearly has to be done, right, before a whole new generation embraces a filthy, unhealthy habit and sees it as just a normal part of our culture? The Duluth City Council has an opportunity to take some sensible action.

The first of three ordinances the council owes it to the community to approve would require a license to sell e-cigarettes the same way sellers of tobacco have to be licensed. In fact, an existing tobacco license would cover e-cigarettes under the measure. A second ordinance would prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in places already designated by law as no-smoking, like inside public buildings, along the Lakewalk, at bus stops and elsewhere. And a third ordinance would close a loophole in clean indoor air laws meant to allow the sampling of tobacco in tobacco shops prior to purchase. Some are exploiting that provision to sell group-smoking experiences in lounge settings.

“The big misconception for a couple of weeks was that Duluth wants to ban e-cigarettes. That’s not it at all,” Jill Doberstein, program manager for tobacco prevention and control for the American Lung Association in Duluth, said in an interview last week with the News Tribune editorial board.

No, the idea is responsible regulation of their use, not the banning of e-cigarettes altogether.

Some users of e-cigarettes swear by their effectiveness in quitting tobacco even though the government has yet to certify them as safe and effective smoking-cessation devices the way it has nicotine patches and other products.

The safety and effectiveness for smoking cessation of e-cigarettes is still being studied and determined, and while the jury is out, adults certainly should be allowed to ignore the health risks and dangers and use e-cigarettes. They can be allowed to forget that the only safe air to breathe is clean air. It is a free country.

But allowing e-cigarettes to pollute the air of others, to be pushed on unsuspecting kids, or to be used without any rules, regulations or controls whatsoever is, well, it’s just downright scary.

— Duluth News Tribune, Sept. 8

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