In the latest wave of bans and regulations targeting the increasingly popular electronic cigarettes, Britain has stepped forth, issuing a ban on e-cigarette sales to children younger than 18 years. Says Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies about the decision: “We do not yet know the harm e-cigarettes can cause to adults, let alone to children, but they are not risk-free.” Most U.S. states prohibit minors from purchasing them as well.
Electronic cigarettes are similar in size and shape to real cigarettes, but deliver nicotine through battery powered liquid vaporization, rather than through the burning of tobacco. Although the technology has been around for many years, its popularity has soared in the past five as consumers look for healthier, cheaper alternatives to traditional smoking. Cigarette prices vary by state depending on taxes, but in some states a pack will now cost more than $10 on average.
Regulations like those imposed by Britain this January are becoming more regular. Several Long Island school districts are updating their policies to specifically prohibit on-campus use of electronic cigarettes. The use of the device more than doubled among middle and high schoolers in the U.S. between 2011 to 2012, according to the CDC. Opponents are worried that e-cigarettes will not only create nicotine addictions among youth, but will serve to normalize and glamourize smoking in general.
On the other hand, e-cigarettes have been seen by many as a less harmful alternative, and one that is more conducive to shared public spaces — over the past several decades, traditional cigarettes have been banned from indoor as well as outdoor private and public locations, forcing smokers more and more to the outskirts. There is potential gain for business owners, as well, considering that the average smoker loses their company $3,000 every year in productivity by taking daily smoking breaks. Only three states so far ban e-cigarettes in the workplace.
Tobacco control researcher Stanton Glanz says that e-cigarettes are currently benefitting from a type of regulatory “wild west” where few traditional laws apply to them, allowing space for many marketing tactics long since banned for traditional cigarettes, including radio and television ads, using child-friendly flavors like gummy bear and cotton candy, labeling promises and more. Should the regulations be different, since e-cigarettes are arguably safer? “It really comes down to the question of what should you be comparing them to,” Glanz cautions. “There’s no question that using an e-cigarette is less dangerous than smoking a cigarette, but smoking a cigarette is wildly dangerous.”
Concerns have been raised over the lack of peer-reviews studies regarding the safety of electronic cigarettes for both the smoker and second-hand participants. Although the CDC says that electronic cigarettes have less toxins, in an interview with Web MD, Tim McAfee, the CDC’s director of the Office on Smoking and Health, has said that, “There are 250 brands of these e-cigarettes and they’re completely unregulated, so what is in one may be different than another. Some have small levels of cancer-causing chemicals, some don’t. The more important thing is that people will be exposed to nicotine. … Nicotine is addictive. … It’s not a benign chemical.”
As electronic cigarettes continue to rise in popularity, they’re likely to become subjected to more direct rules and regulations. The government wants to ensure public safety, as well as fair taxation. New York City has already added electronic cigarettes to its smoking ban, and other big cities are likely to follow suit. The future of e-cigarettes seems promising for producers in any case: big-tobacco industry insiders are predicting that sales will surpass that of traditional cigarettes within the next 10 years.