Health officials have all sorts of problems with the growing use of electronic cigarettes, or “vaping.” They’re concerned about unknown chemicals in the e-liquid used in the vaping devices and about whether the vapor released has secondhand effects on bystanders.
Health officials acknowledge that they don’t have enough information yet to know whether e-cigarettes are safer for smokers than regular cigarettes or whether they’re useful in helping some smokers kick the habit. But they do know one thing: that young people shouldn’t be vaping.
Cigarette smoking has dropped among teenagers, but use of e-cigarettes is skyrocketing, fueling fears that Smoking 2.0 will get the next generation addicted to nicotine. As with other addictive drugs, nicotine poses its greatest threat to adolescents whose brains are still developing.
Sale of e-cigarettes to minors is prohibited in Washington state, but anecdotal evidence indicates kids aren’t having much trouble obtaining the devices. Many kids get them online, and they’re even turning up in middle schools.
Young people are attracted to the fruit and candy e-liquid flavors available – everything from almond coconut and pineapple to bubble gum and marshmallow. Those flavors typically come in brightly colored little containers, just the size for little hands.
Those little hands are getting into e-liquid at an alarming rate. Tasting or even touching nicotine-laden e-liquid can be toxic to a child. Nicotine – a common insecticide – is a fast-acting poison in high concentrations and can cause vomiting, seizures and even death.
The Washington Poison Center has received 154 calls this year reporting poisonings related to e-cigarettes. More than two-thirds of the calls involved children; 56 of those children required hospital treatment. Because the numbers only reflect calls to the poison center, the agency says the true extent of the problem is much greater.
Now it wants the state Legislature to tighten controls on e-liquid, requiring clear and consistent warning labels as well as child-proof packaging.
Responsible e-cigarette purveyors should support legislation likely to be proposed in the next session. The best solution, of course, would be national rules regarding e-liquids. But until that happens, Washington’s lawmakers should do what it takes to protect this state’s children.