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Age Limits on E-cigs Are a Step to Protect Teens

December 27, 2018

We’ve sounded the alarm for some time about the dangers of nicotine-laced e-cigarettes, due to the uncertainty of their long-term health effects, and especially because of marketing campaigns apparently designed to hook a generation of adolescents on this growing, addictive habit.

Steps have been taken to limit the availability of these vaping devices, including a law by our state Legislature that raised the age to purchase cigarettes and electronic cigarettes from 18 to 21. It also banned e-cigarettes and other vape devices from the workplace, and prohibits pharmacies and health-care facilities from selling any tobacco or vape products.

But some communities have taken even more restrictive measures. Locally, the towns of Ayer, Dracut and Wilmington now only allow the sale of e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco in smoke shops open to those 21 and older.

By doing so, convenience stores and other retail outlets in these communities -- not covered in that state statute -- can no longer stock these products on their shelves.

And while the push to further discourage teen usage of e-cigarettes can benefit from all available publicity, we were surprised to see a recent front-page story in a Boston newspaper trumpeting the city of Somerville as the first municipality in Massachusetts to further restrict the sale of e-cigarettes. Beginning April 1, sales of menthol and e-cigarettes there will be allowed only in tobacco stores open to customers over age 21.

No doubt, given this exposure, Somerville’s actions, as the newspaper report suggests, could convince other Massachusetts communities to take similar steps.

And that’s what’s important.

In Somerville, as in other communities, the number of teens who reported using e-cigarettes has spiked, accounting for the majority of that age group’s tobacco use.

Although teens often regard e-cigarettes as relatively harmless, the Surgeon General has warned that nicotine exposure during adolescence can cause addiction, and harm the developing adolescent brain.

For those still unaware of this threat to teens’ well-being, battery-powered e-cigarettes heat a liquid containing nicotine into vapors that are inhaled. Although vaping may be safer than a traditional cigarette and may indeed help some adults quit smoking -- its purported intent -- this nicotine is still addictive. Helping smokers wean off tobacco might have been the initial motive behind the manufacture and sale of e-cigarettes, but it’s obvious that target audience has changed.

In fact, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in September ordered the five biggest e-cigarette manufacturers to explain how they will address the problem or face removal of their products from the store shelves.

Gottlieb sent letters to the companies that control 97 percent of the e-cigarette market -- JUUL, R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co.’s Vuse, Altria Group’s MarkTen, Imperial Brands’s blu, and Japan Tobacco’s Logic devices.

Juul has reportedly stopped selling certain flavors -- mango, fruit, creme and cucumber -- that critics said appealed to teens, but still offers youth-friendly flavors that account for 50 percent of its sales.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month that more than 3.6 million young people nationwide, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students, use e-cigarettes.

Let’s hope other communities do follow the lead of Ayer, Dracut, Wilmington, and Somerville to keep e-cigarettes out of teenagers’ hands.

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