Electronic cigarettes do not belong in the hands of minors and Florida lawmakers should ban the sale, barter or gifting of electronic smoking devices to children under 18. Legislation that would do just that appears to be on the fast track in Tallahassee, a smart move that could prevent nicotine addiction in children and another generation of smokers from getting hooked before they are mature enough or there's enough science to know the long-term impact of their decisions.
Electronic cigarettes were introduced widely in the United States about seven years ago. The device — a steel tube, nicotine cartridge and an atomizer — provides smokers with the sensation of nicotine absent the deadly tar that is present in traditional cigarettes. The battery-operated devices deliver nicotine through a vapor that rises when the flavored liquid in the cigarette heats up. Flavors range from classic tobacco to fruity concoctions such as cherry or vanilla cupcake. The sweet flavors and their availability everywhere from corner shops to the Internet have raised concerns about youth smoking and that electronic cigarettes could become a gateway to traditional smoking. Sightings of celebrities smoking electronic cigarettes and robust advertising from manufacturers also have fueled anxiety among health officials and parents.
Public health officials are divided on the danger of electronic cigarettes. Proponents tout their growing popularity as a cessation device. But others say electronic cigarettes may not be safer than their more traditional counterparts because they still provide access to nicotine, which is known to be addictive. The cigarettes are so new that no conclusive data exists detailing the long-term effects of their use. And the industry is not yet regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, leading some to question the products' ingredients, particularly those with flavored liquids that are made in foreign countries.
With mainstream tobacco companies seeking entree into the $1.7 billion electronic cigarette business, Florida lawmakers are wise to step up now and create rules that protect minors. The law already prohibits traditional cigarette sales to that group. It should do the same for the electronic version. With laws in place to stop children from indulging, perhaps science will have the time to catch up and provide data about the effects of lighting up.