E-cigarette ban for youth worthwhile

By The Mercury

The 2012 Kansas Legislature will likely be remembered for its embarrassing failure to agree on redistricting maps and for tax cuts that are excessive in the extreme.

Those issues all but obscure the good work lawmakers were able to accomplish. One example involves legislation, recently signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback, that prohibits the sale of electronic cigarettes to persons under 18 years old.

E-cigarettes are a fairly recent phenomenon stemming from the long national campaign against conventional cigarettes, which cause cancer and contribute to a variety of other life-threatening health problems. E-cigarettes are marketed as a safe alternative to people who enjoy smoking.

The science isn’t all in, and won’t be for years. Advocates of e-cigarettes point out that the devices don’t contain the chemicals that traditional cigarettes have and that smokers ingest when they inhale. E-cigarettes do, however, contain nicotine; in fact they exist to provide nicotine without the harm of traditional cigarettes. Unfortunately, nicotine itself is both harmful and highly addictive.

E-cigarettes function by allowing users to inhale a vaporized liquid nicotine instead of cigarette smoke. Researchers have detected changes in the lung function of healthy smokers who “smoke” an e-cigarette for just five minutes — about the time it takes to smoke a regular cigarette.

What’s more, the Food and Drug Administration on its website notes that “e-cigarettes may contain ingredients that are known to be toxic to humans and may contain other ingredients that may not be safe.”

Both the FDA and the American Lung Association have enough concerns about e-cigarettes to have rejected them as aids to smokers who are trying to quit.

Adults who smoke regular cigarettes and switch to e-cigarettes might well be prolonging their lives. The least they’ll be doing is reducing the amount of second-hand smoke and the odor that accompanies it.

But youth deserve protection from e-cigarettes as well as from traditional tobacco products. Far too many of today’s adult smokers — and adults with COPD, heart disease, cancer and other serious health problems — became addicted to nicotine in high school or middle school. The fact that the nicotine in e-cigarettes isn’t accompanied by the toxins in regular cigarettes don’t make it any less addicting. And the argument that e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes don’t make them safe.

The debate over e-cigarettes won’t define the 2012 Legislature, but as regards their use by youth, the Legislature got it right.

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