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, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and four other Democratic senators introduced a bill to ban marketing that targets youngsters.
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.
The marketing appears to be paying off. E-cigarette use doubled among middle- and high-school students — from 4.7% in 2011 to 10% in 2012, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Nearly 1.8 million students said they had tried e-cigs.
Since about 90% of smokers start as teens, it's troubling 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 and the American Lung Association.
While California and about half of the states ban the sale of e-cigs to minors, there are no federal restrictions. 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 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 nation and state.
Several California cities have put e-cigarettes under the same restrictions as regular cigarettes, such as limiting where they can be sold. Assembly Member Roger Dickinson, D-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.
Adults can decide for themselves whether the nicotine rush of vaping is worth the risk.
Children, however, should not be easy marks for its purveyors.
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