Nicotine con job: The state must protect against faux cigarettes

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uman ingenuity knows few limits, but in the case of those peddling tobacco that is not something to celebrate.H

Tobacco use has been a scourge to health, so what do clever minds come up with? E-cigarettes, battery-operated devices which mimic the real thing. They deliver nicotine but don’t give off smoke, just a watery vapor that looks like smoke.

E-cigarettes come with dubious claims: They are not real cigarettes, so they aren’t regulated yet by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. No need to restrict their sales then. They’ll keep kids from moving to real cigarettes. They’ll help smokers quit their habit.

These assertions deserve as much credence as those made by the tobacco industry over the years in falsely defending regular cigarettes. This is becoming increasingly clear from scientific studies, just as it did with tobacco products.

According a new study by the University of California, San Francisco, published online in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, adolescents who used e-cigarettes were more likely to be smokers of traditional cigarettes and less likely to quit smoking than those who did not use e-cigarettes. The study of nearly 40,000 young people around the country also found that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students doubled between 2011 and 2012, from 3.1 percent to 6.5 percent. That’s no surprise — e-cigarettes come in flavors appealing to a young market.

This was the first analysis of the relationship between e-cigarette use and smoking among adolescents in the United States, but results are consistent with a similar study of 75,000 Korean adolescents published last year by UCSF researchers.

The new study, which was published March 6, concluded, “Use of e-cigarettes does not discourage, and may encourage, conventional cigarette use among U.S. adolescents.” Some experts said, however, that the study failed to prove a causal relationship between the use of e-cigarettes and traditional smoking.

Even so, there is enough to be concerned about. Lawmakers in Harrisburg should ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. The Pennsylvania Medical Society is calling for passage of Senate Bill 1055, which would do that.

The doctors’ group is right: Until more is known, and what is already known is disturbing, e-cigarettes should not be treated differently from traditional cigarettes.

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