Our View: E-cigarettes should not be marketed to kids

03/01/2014 12:00 AM

03/01/2014 9:07 PM

There is a growing debate about the health dangers of e-cigarettes, and whether they help smokers kick the habit or lead to more nicotine addiction.

But it ought to be beyond dispute that the lookalike, feel-alike devices should not be marketed to children. Wednesday, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and three other senators introduced a bill to ban ads and other marketing that targets kids and teens.

While the companies deny they’re doing so, the tell-tale signs are there: They offer products in fruit and candy flavors, promote them in ads featuring celebrities and cartoon characters and sponsor music festivals and sporting events popular with young people.

All the marketing appears to be paying off. E-cigarette use doubled among middle- and high-school students – from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last September. Nearly 1.8 million students said they had tried e-cigs.

Since about 90 percent of smokers start as teens, it’s troubling to think that a new generation is being hooked on nicotine. That’s why the bill has the support of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Lung Association and other public health groups.

While California and about half the states ban the sale of e-cigs to minors, there are no federal restrictions yet. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is looking at the battery-powered pipes, which heat up liquid nicotine, additives and flavorings into a vapor that is inhaled. The FDA has already banned the sale of cigarettes or smokeless tobacco to those under 18, as well as production of cigarettes with fruit and clove flavors that appealed to children.

As e-cigarettes surge in popularity – 3.5 million users in 2012, according to the industry association – they are getting more attention from lawmakers around the country and across the state.

Several California cities have already put e-cigarettes under the same restrictions as regular cigarettes, such as limiting where they can be sold and banning them from public places. When the Sacramento City Council this month started considering restrictions on smoking in outdoor dining areas, e-cigarette advocates urged the city to exempt them. Assemblyman Roger Dickinson of Sacramento has introduced a bill to close what he says is a huge loophole – online sales to minors because the age of purchasers isn’t verified. AB 1500 would prohibit California residents from buying tobacco directly over the Internet; online retailers could still sell to brick-and-mortar stores, where IDs could be checked.

The science may still be inconclusive on vaping. Adults can decide for themselves whether the nicotine rush is worth the risk. Children, however, should not be easy marks for its purveyors.

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