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Alarming rise in the use of e-cigarettes should prompt regulation by the FDA

Recent news detailing the sharp rise among teenagers in the use of electronic cigarettes should be alarming enough to prompt the Food and Drug Administration into regulating this relatively new product.

Dr. Stephen Ostroff, acting head of the FDA, indicated the other day that the agency is moving “full speed ahead” on curtailing the use of e-cigarettes. It can’t move fast enough.

The FDA has been painfully sluggish, taking baby steps toward regulating e-cigarettes only last year. The absence of any rules begs the question of what is contained in electronic cigarettes and what are the short- and long-term effects of using them?

Ardent supporters, often involved in the industry, argue that electronic cigarettes are not as harmful as traditional tobacco cigarettes. They also say that the precipitous drop in the number of teenagers smoking tobacco proves that e-cigarettes are not a “gateway” to cigarettes, cigars and pipes.

However, attention must be paid to concerns raised by some researchers who say that while e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco cigarettes, they are still addictive and by no means safe.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that vaporize flavored liquid nicotine so it can be inhaled.

As reported, the numbers of middle and high school students using the devices tripled from 2013 to 2014. It brings the share of high school students who use the devices to 13 percent, more than smoke traditional cigarettes.

Most people of a certain age can remember the kids hanging out near the school sneaking a smoke, with new users trying hard not to gag. Presumably now those curls of smoke have a more pleasant smell for the young people, with bubble gum and grape among the flavors available.

Experts are understandably concerned and, thankfully, so are some elected officials.

New York State, Erie County and City of Buffalo officials have all explored limiting the use of e-cigarettes in public places. The county and city have passed laws and the state has long dictated that the products cannot be sold to minors. The FDA’s proposed sweeping rules that would, for the first time, extend its regulatory authority to electronic cigarettes have remained stuck in the rule-making process. Recent numbers on the skyrocketing use among young people should force the issue.

There is so much more to understand about the contents and effects of electronic cigarettes, and the federal government and its agencies should take the lead in making sure the public has that information. The need is becoming more critical given the increasing numbers of young people using the products.