E-cigarette rules long overdue

The growth of the electronic cigarettes industry is remarkable, but its appeal is no mystery. E-cigarettes are loopholes to America’s smoking regulations.

Increasing numbers of electronic-cigarette smokers often are immune from the rules tobacco smokers face. Most laws against smoking in public are aimed at tobacco. E-cigarettes were largely unknown when those laws were enacted – and the marketing strategies put that to good use.

E-cigarettes enable users to inhale nicotine through battery-operated devices. Vapor rather than smoke is the result – and the new industry encourages consumers to take advantage in bars, restaurants and other places where tobacco smoking is prohibited.

The “freedom” the e-cigarette promotes is alluring, but it also is troubling. Because the cigarettes aren’t subject to the same regulations as tobacco products, children in increasing numbers are attracted to them – and 17 states, including Michigan, don’t bar their sale to minors.

It is right that the Food and Drug Administration finally involved itself in regulating e-cigarettes. The FDA’s decision last week was remarkably late. E-cigarettes’ popularity has been impossible to ignore in the past few years. But at least the federal agency finally has come to recognize the risks they pose.

E-cigarettes are promoted as safe alternatives to traditional cigarettes, but that’s only a contention. As bad as tobacco cigarettes might be for the users’ health, their contents are known, thanks to federal regulations.

There is no such required information about E-cigarettes. The nicotine vapors the users inhale purportedly are less harmful than tobacco smoke, but there is no definitive proof that’s the case.

That’s especially a problem for minors. E-cigarette use has doubled for middle and high school students from 2011 to 2012. It’s one thing for adults to use the product. With questions about its safety, children’s e-cigarette use is alarming.

The FDA wants to prohibit e-cigarette sales to children under 18, limit vending machine sales to adults-only facilities and end the distribution of free samples.

The FDA also would require manufacturers to divulge the ingredients in e-cigarettes. The industry has been getting away with pushing them as safe. The FDA will decide if that’s true.

E-cigarette regulation was long overdue. Federal intervention is an important first step in defending public safety.

– Times Herald (Port Huron)