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Outside Editorial: Minors don't need e-cigarettes

Posted: September 30, 2013 - 11:00pm

This editorial first appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star (Nebraska):

E-cigarettes may be safer than traditional tobacco ones, but the purpose is the same — getting nicotine into humans.

So if a planned interim study hearing by the Legislature’s General Affairs Committee helps lawmakers come to the conclusion that the sale of e-cigarettes to minors should be banned, so be it.

But make no mistake about it, the sale of e-cigarettes to minors should be banned.

There are most certainly regulatory and scientific questions that still need to be answered. And a study and vigorous debate might buy some time while some of those get sorted out.

But we can’t afford to take too much time.

A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 10 percent of high school students had tried e-cigarettes in 2012, up more than double from the 4.7 percent figure of 2011. There was almost a doubling among middle school students during that same time, jumping to 2.7 percent from 1.4 percent.

Because e-cigarettes use battery power to heat a liquid, turning it into vapor rather than smoke, it’s not as noxious as traditional cigarette smoke. Nicotine can be added to the liquid, as can any number of kid-friendly flavors.

Despite the health risks, cigarette smoking always has had a certain allure for youth. This possibly healthier and currently unregulated alternative will only pull in more experimenters.

Nicotine is addictive. E-cigarettes aren’t as efficient as tobacco cigarettes at getting nicotine into the body, so it’s not hard to image e-cigarettes being the entryway to tobacco use when the nicotine e-buzz starts to dull.

In an era when we’ve acknowledged the high costs to health — and health care — associated with tobacco use, and we’ve made smoking in most public places against the law, it seems odd to allow minors an unimpeded path to potential tobacco use through e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes may be an effective way to kick the tobacco smoking habit. If the science bears it out, they may be a better alternative for adult smokers than tobacco smoke in any form.

But inhaling anything with nicotine — smoke or vapor — is less healthy than inhaling nothing but pure air.

Minors don’t need access to e-cigarettes. There’s plenty of time after they’re 18 to pick up adult habits. For now, the state would be wise to act as soon as possible to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

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