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posted: 8/29/2014 4:01 PM

Editorial: We must study, regulate e-cigarettes carefully

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  • E-cigarettes may have some potential to help people quite smoking, but they pose many dangers of their own, too.

    E-cigarettes may have some potential to help people quite smoking, but they pose many dangers of their own, too.


There are those who will look at the American Heart Association's first policy statement on electronic cigarettes as an endorsement of a product that has not been proved to cause cancer and, therefore, is a reasonable alternative to smoking real cigarettes.

And there are those who will look at the statement as a condemnation of a product that has exploded onto the market, is virtually unregulated, has enticed nonsmokers and children to get hooked on nicotine in a fun and tasty way and given smokers a way to still get their fix in social situations in a state that has taken great lengths over many years to impede public smoking.

Put us squarely in the latter camp.

E-cigarettes, like old-fashioned tobacco cigarettes, are just plain bad. How bad is yet to be determined. Don't think for a moment that they are a safe alternative to cigarettes.

The Heart Assocation's position is this: Only if proven smoking cessation methods, including counseling and nicotine patches, fail, "it is reasonable to have a conversation" about e-cigarettes. The American Cancer Society has weighed in with a similar stance.

Ten years after the advent of e-cigarettes, there are 466 brands and 7,764 unique flavors of e-cigarette products on the market, according to the Heart Association's recent report. Because of the relative newness of e-cig products, the vast array of them, the various concentrations of "juice" and the ever-changing technologies being introduced, scientists are having a tough time gauging their potential health effects. The process of creating nicotine vapor with the aid of a tiny heating coil has its inherent dangers: tin, silver, cadmium and other metals have been found to be cast off in the process and sucked into the lungs. And while e-cigs don't have the tar tobacco cigarettes do, nicotine itself is an addictive stimulant with deleterious health effects.

"There are concerns that e-cigarette use and acceptance of e-cigarettes has the potential to renormalize smoking behavior, dual use, and initiate or maintain nicotine addiction," the Heart Association says. "Adolescents view e-cigarettes as safer than conventional cigarettes, more convenient to use and more readily accessible. Their attraction to these 'high-tech' devices is fueled further by the marketing practices of the tobacco industry (which appeal to younger consumers)."

The report suggests that e-cigs can be a gateway to other substances. We've even seen in some of our suburban schools that kids are using e-cigs to inhale a liquefied form of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

The Heart Association advocates extensive regulation ­-- labeling, manufacturing standards, prohibition of marketing and sale to minors -- that apply to tobacco cigarettes. And it suggests treating e-cigs the same way as cigarettes in terms of smoke-free air laws. Some suburbs already have taken that step.

We strongly encourage the same, and we advocate that all suburbs apply the same standards to e-cigs as they do to tobacco cigarettes.

It's time we stop treating them as harmless toys. They're anything but.

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