On September 6, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the use of electronic cigarettes by middle and high school age children had doubled in the past year. Less than three weeks later, the Attorneys General of 40 states – including Connecticut – announced that they are calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue regulations by October 31, 2013, addressing the advertising, ingredients and sale to minors of e-cigarettes.
The CDC survey noted that an estimated 1.78 million students reported having used e-cigarettes as of 2012. Additionally, an estimated 160,000 students who reported using e-cigarettes had never used conventional cigarettes. “This is a serious concern,” the CDC pointed out, “because the overall impact of e-cigarette use on public health remains uncertain. In youths, concerns include the potential negative impact of nicotine on adolescent brain development, as well as the risk for nicotine addiction and initiation of the use of conventional cigarettes or other tobacco products.”
In a bipartisan letter this week, the attorneys general asked the FDA to regulate e-cigarettes as “tobacco products” under the Tobacco Control Act and to prohibit their sale to minors. E-cigarettes – rapidly growing in popularity among both youth and adults – are battery-operated products that heat liquid nicotine, derived from tobacco plants, into a vapor that is inhaled by the user.
“Nicotine in any form is highly addictive,” said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen. “While some marketing claims imply that e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to smoking, the fact is that the health effects of e-cigarettes have not been adequately studied. Without sound research, we simply do not know whether the chemicals a user is inhaling are safe.”
At present, no federal age restrictions prevent children from obtaining e-cigarettes, and e-cigarettes are available in fruit and candy flavors – including bubble gum, gummy bear and chocolate – that appeal to youth and have been banned from cigarettes.
Earlier this week, U.S. News reported that Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the state’s former Attorney General, “is one of the most vehement advocates of restricting the sale of electronic cigarettes. ” The magazine reported that Blumenthal says the vapor-producing devices, which are booming in popularity, have become “gateway nicotine-delivery devices” for children and he advocates banning flavor options and online sales.
U.S sales are expected to double this year to $1.7 billion, according to a Wells Fargo Securities estimate published in August. Year-to-date retail sales were estimated at around $700 million and online sales were pegged at $500-625 million. “I think flavors ought to be banned,” Blumenthal told U.S. News. It’s “completely disingenuous” to say adults are the primary users of popular flavor options, he said. “There may be a handful of adults who like bubble gum-flavored e-cigarettes, but the overwhelming purpose,” he said, “is to appeal to kids.”
In addition to Connecticut, attorneys general from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Washington and Wyoming signed the letter sent to the FDA today.
“Given the rapid increase in use and youths’ susceptibility to social and environmental influences to use tobacco, developing strategies to prevent marketing, sales, and use of e-cigarettes among youths is critical,” the CDC report stated.