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Washington, D.C., and California make welcome moves on e-cigarettes and tobacco

Two health-related items should have a positive effect on the lives of countless young people, one on a national scale and the other in California.

The Food and Drug Administration finally announced rules that the agency had promised some time ago on electronic cigarettes.

The new rules, derived from a major tobacco-control law Congress passed in 2009 and first proposed in draft form in 2014, will bring the industry under federal oversight for the first time. These changes will limit e-cigarette sales to minors – something already in place in New York State – and require new health warnings. Manufacturers must seek federal permission to continue selling all e-cigarettes marketed since 2007. These rules also cover regulations on cigars, hookah tobacco, pipe tobacco and all other tobacco products.

Andrew Hyland, chairman of the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, said the rule “sets the framework for future tobacco product regulation.” The industry is already crying foul and insisting that many smaller companies could be put out of business. But they are arguing, in effect, to be allowed to market addictive products whose ingredients are often unknown and potentially harmful. Federal officials should be ready for a fight.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that create a vapor by heating liquid containing nicotine. The vapor is inhaled. Despite industry claims over the virtue of e-cigarettes as a way to kick the nicotine habit, there has been enough doubt among scientists in this country to urge caution.

Various e-cigarette flavors such as the innocent-sounding “bubblegum” would have to be enticing for a young person. The FDA is reportedly looking at future regulations on flavors used in vapor products, but is awaiting more data. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that while smoking has declined among middle and high school students between 2011 and 2015, the use of electronic cigarettes has risen among the group during the same period.

Speaking of tobacco products, California has passed legislation that raises its smoking age from 18 to 21 for most of its citizens. A stipulation added later makes an exception for active-duty military personnel who are 18 and over.

The age to buy tobacco products in New York State remains 18. The state should join California and Hawaii and more than 100 cities and counties – Boston, New York City and Suffolk County in Long Island among them – working to protect young people and their still-forming brains from the ill effects of nicotine.

The Chautauqua County Legislature approved a local law April 27 to raise the legal age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21. Ken Dahlgren, community engagement specialist for the Tobacco-Free Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany, praised the action in a blog post that talks about efforts to build a state “Tobacco 21” movement. As Dahlgren wrote: “… in Chautauqua County, nearly one-quarter of adults identify as smokers, a rate much higher than the state average.” Smoking rates in Erie and Niagara counties are among the highest in the state, which could be due to ready access to cheap, untaxed cigarettes on Indian reservations.

With what medical science has proven about the long- and short-term deleterious health effects of smoking and nicotine addiction, anything that prevents young people from getting started should be swiftly put in place. That includes creating barriers to what could be reasonably argued is the gateway to traditional tobacco represented by electronic cigarettes.