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E-Cigarettes Pose Real Risks to Teens

E-Cigarettes Pose Real Risks to Teens

Photograph by Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Could someone please send the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a copy of the latest study on teenagers and e-cigarettes? The agency obviously needs a push to come out with its overdue regulations.

Drawn from two surveys of tens of thousands of American middle school and high school students, the research found that adolescents who tried battery-powered nicotine vaporizers were more likely to smoke tobacco cigarettes. And if the kids were already regular smokers when they experimented with “vaping,” they became less likely to quit. It’s evidence that e-cigarettes, as the authors say, are “aggravating rather than ameliorating the tobacco epidemic among youths.”

This comes as no surprise. While hardened adult smokers might find that e-cigarettes help them quit the unprefixed kind, teenagers are more likely to try vaping before they try smoking. Yet the FDA has still not begun to regulate e-cigarettes, despite pledging to do so by the fall of 2013. Some states and cities—including, as of mid-March, Los Angeles—have already started to impose regulations. Meanwhile, the number of vapers keeps rising: U.S. consumers will spend $3 billion on e-cigarettes this year, twice last year’s total.

On Feb. 26, the European Parliament passed a list of e-cigarette restrictions, including a ban on advertisements, a requirement for childproof packaging with pictorial safety warnings, and a limit on nicotine content. Those are all smart rules, as is a ban on sales to minors and restrictions on candy flavors that are meant to appeal to kids. On the same day a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate to ban advertising to minors.

More research is needed to discern the specific health hazards of electronic cigarettes, as well as their relative safety compared with burning tobacco. But it’s not too soon to conclude that regulation is needed to keep them out of the hands of children.

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