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Laws restricting the use of tobacco should extend to new forms of smoking

The increasingly popular electronic cigarettes have largely escaped the regulations governing traditional means of smoking. That needs to end.

State, Erie County and Buffalo officials should all be credited for looking at the issue of smoking in the modern age with an eye toward determining what regulations are necessary.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that vaporize flavored liquid nicotine so it can be inhaled. There are even bubble gum and grape versions. Their use is surging, as evidenced by the proliferation of “vapor” shops.

Testimonials from those who talk passionately about how electronic cigarettes helped them kick the tobacco habit should not be enough to sway lawmakers into allowing e-cigarettes to be used in public places until we know much more about their health effects.

There are enough red flags raised by scientists and health professionals to warrant regulations.

Researcher Mark J. Travers, of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, was quoted in a News article saying that e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco, but still not safe: “It’s not just vapor. We find levels of formaldehyde, heavy metals.”

Another News article cited concern from Dr. Gale R. Burstein, the county’s health commissioner, “about the lack of oversight and information on the manufacturing of e-cigarettes.” She noted that many come from China.

In New York State, the products already cannot be sold to minors. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in his budget, has proposed banning the use of e-cigarettes in restaurants, offices and other public places where tobacco consumption is prohibited.

The Food and Drug Administration proposed sweeping rules that would, for the first time, extend its regulatory authority to electronic cigarettes. But the draft rule that would give the FDA authority over e-cigarettes is mired in the rule-making process and could be years from implementation.

Erie County is considering regulations, and a recent public hearing allowed people on both sides of the issue a chance to speak.

Buffalo Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen put forth a measure in which smoking of e-cigarettes would be prohibited on buses and in some public places. His measure would try to curb the habit among young people by reinforcing the existing state law making it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors.

Pridgen believes that the city needs its own law. Because the city and county can move more swiftly than the state, those efforts should continue. But a uniform statewide policy that treats e-cigarettes like regular cigarettes should be the goal. That would prevent confusing and possibly contradictory local laws from springing up across the state.

Dr. Andrew J. Hyland, chairman of the Health Behavior Department at Roswell Park, said that there are hazardous chemicals in some e-cigarette emissions. It is one thing for e-cigarette users to choose to inhale those chemicals. It is something else to inflict them on others.

Electronic cigarette users and marketers insist the products are safe and bear no resemblance to traditional cigarettes.

They may indeed be safer, and help some smokers kick the habit, but there are enough doubts about the effects on both users and bystanders to treat them like regular cigarettes, at least for now. If research concludes that they are truly safe, the regulations can be modified.