Editorial: E-cigarettes need regulation

Published Oct 1, 2013 at 05:00AM

The latest craze among non-smoker wannabes is the electronic cigarette, a device that allows the user to inhale vaporized nicotine without taking in the tars that help make old-fashioned cigarettes so dangerous.

Yet e-cigarettes come with their own set of problems, and the federal Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue regulations governing them next month. Rules are needed.

E-cigarettes are new to the American scene, only about a decade old and just now gaining real popularity. They’re touted as an improvement on tobacco cigarettes because users do not inhale tars, but that doesn’t necessarily make them safe.

In fact, according to the Oregon Health Authority and others, partly because e-cigarettes are unregulated in Oregon, they may contain all sorts of nasty things, from formaldehyde to benzene to cadmium to lead. At the same time, and for the same reason, nicotine levels in e-cigarettes can vary dramatically.

Worse, because they come in flavors like bubble gum, chocolate and cookies-and-cream, they’re particularly attractive to kids. In 2011, the Oregon Poison Control Center handled at least a dozen calls regarding the accidental poisoning of children by e-cigarettes, and it seems clear their manufacturers had young people in mind when choosing flavors for their product.

Unfortunately, young people are responding.

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Tobacco Survey, e-cigarette use by middle and high school students doubled from 2011 to 2012. About 20 percent of kids who use them never have smoked traditional cigarettes.

The truth is that there’s not nearly enough known about e-cigarettes to assure their safety, and until there is, their sale and marketing should be controlled by the FDA. Forty attorneys general, including Oregon’s Ellen Rosenblum, have asked the agency to do just that.

Meanwhile, private businesses, including Starbucks and Fred Meyer, include e-cigarettes in broader smoking bans.

We don’t know if e-cigarettes will prove as dangerous as tobacco, but until we do, we should err on the side of safety. It simply does not make sense to allow children, in particular, to purchase a drug-delivery product, particularly one the safety of which has yet to be proved.

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