ELECTRONIC CIGARETTES have the potential to improve public health if adults use them instead of regular tobacco — but not if they end up hooking young people on nicotine. Unfortunately, the ambiguous regulatory status of so-called e-cigarettes makes it possible for manufacturers to run marketing campaigns clearly aimed at young Americans. If federal regulators can’t or won’t make sure these products don’t end up creating more smokers than they cure, states like Massachusetts should.
E-cigarettes are reusable devices that deliver nicotine in vapor form, but not other carcinogens found in traditional tobacco products. Their manufacturers tout them as a tool to help smokers quit. It’s noteworthy, though, that one of the country’s three largest tobacco firms is among the leading makers of e-cigarettes, the other two tobacco giants plan to enter the market, and promotional efforts in this area have a distinctly youthful tone.
For example, Lorillard — the big American tobacco company that produces the Blu e-cigarette line — makes nicotine cartridges in a flavor called Cherry Crush. Competitor DFW Vapor has a flavor called Cookies & Cream Milkshake. Meanwhile, Lorillard has recently produced a slick television advertisement for their Blu line featuring actor Stephen Dorff — a step the firm could only take because e-cigarettes are not yet considered tobacco products by the Food and Drug Administration and therefore not subject to the federal ban on TV cigarette ads.
Local regulators have been more aggressive. Public-health officials in Boston decided to treat e-cigarettes like traditional tobacco products in 2011, and the city prohibits their sale to minors and their use in workplaces. However, Boston is only one of a handful of municipalities in the state that does so, and there are no state regulations on e-cigarettes. City-by-city rules are likely to be toothless in practice; a Boston-only law aimed at preventing adolescents from buying the products will be ineffective if teens can buy them legally in Cambridge. A statewide policy is needed.
Adults should have the right to buy e-cigarettes, and people using them to quit smoking should be encouraged to do so — even if that means allowing them in workplaces. What’s crucial is making sure today’s inaction on the federal level doesn’t lead to another generation of Massachusetts residents addicted to tobacco products.