Our Opnion: Regulate e-cigarettes

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Massachusetts has now joined the ranks of those urging that the sales of electronic cigarettes to minors be regulated, as well as the advertising targeting youthful audiences. It will take this kind of concerted public-private effort to address this issue now that the major cigarette companies are moving into the e-cigarette field.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley on Tuesday joined 38 other state attorneys general in urging the federal Food and Drug Administration to take on the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes. No current federal rules apply to e-cigarettes, which use a nicotine-laced liquid that is heated by batteries, creating a vapor that is inhaled by the user. They are not new, but what is new is that the three biggest tobacco companies, facing declining sales because of the success of anti-smoking campaigns, are moving into the business and targeting young people specifically in their ad campaigns. The devices often are sold in fruit flavors to further entice youth to get hooked on their use.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control released the results of a national survey indicating a significant rise in the percentage of high school and middle school students using e-cigarettes from 2010 to 2011, which explains the need for haste. Public and private health advocates worry that once young people begin using e-cigarettes they will, at the urging of the cigarette companies, take up smoking conventional cigarettes.

E-cigarettes don't contain the toxins that tobacco-based cigarettes are riddled with, and smokers claim anecdotally that the e-cigarettes have helped them cut down on or quit their habit. Nicotine, however, is a highly addictive drug of no benefit to anyone, and studies have revealed that nicotine can impair the brain development of adolescents. Adults are better off participating in a smoking cessation program, and youth will be better off if e-cigarettes and the ad campaigns for them are tightly regulated. Washington, D.C. does not move quickly, however, and Massachusetts should immediately join several other states in prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and banning their use in public places.

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