Clearing the smoke

With the number of our young people using e-cigarettes now higher than the number smoking traditional cigarettes, most folks regard action by the Food and Drug Administration earlier this month to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under age 18 as good news. The regulation also requires e-cigarette manufacturers to disclose their ingredients and submit those products for government approval.

Until now, the booming market of e-cigarettes has been subject to tragically little oversight. The battery-powered devices, which heat nicotine-laced liquids, with flavors from bubble gum to mocha to margarita, into vapors that are inhaled by the user, have proven especially popular among middle school and high school youth.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 5.3 percent of middle school students and 16 percent of high schoolers reported last year that they had used e-cigarettes in the previous 30 days.

Industry officials claim to have supported bans on sales to minors, even as they’ve made their products increasingly attractive to younger and younger teens. They contend that the new regulations will be too burdensome, hurting businesses and depriving consumers of “less harmful alternatives to conventional cigarettes.” Anti-smoking advocates respond that the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes aren’t yet known. They cite lack of evidence that e-cigarettes help addicted smokers to quit. And they point out that marketers are employing the same tactics and themes once used by the traditional cigarette industry.

Maine already is at the forefront of anti-vaping legislation. Last fall, a law was passed declaring vaping as a form of smoking, while banning it from public places such as parks, restaurants and public buildings.

Maine and 47 states already ban sales of e-cigarettes to people under 18. Michigan and Pennsylvania are the only exceptions. And California also is different. Effective today, June 9, their legal smoking age is being raised to 21.

The new federal rules require retailers in every state to verify the age of purchasers by photo identification, which Maine already does. And it bans free samples, as well as sale of the products in vending machines accessible to minors, beginning Aug. 8.

Manufacturers have until 2018 to have new warning labels approved.

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