The federal Food and Drug Administration has proposed to do what Utah lawmakers declined to do during their recent session — regulate e-cigarettes. Federal action, however, does not let the state off the hook.
“Vaping,” as the consumption of e-cigarettes is known, is a growing health concern that will require both state and federal action to control.
E-cigarettes look like traditional cigarettes but use a battery-powered heater to turn a liquid nicotine concoction into vapor that looks like smoke but emits no offensive odor. Because they contain no tobacco, these products do not fall under state and federal cigarette restrictions, although it is illegal to sell them to anyone under 19 in Utah. Manufacturers advertise them on television and in other media where cigarette ads are forbidden.
They also make unsubstantiated claims, such as that e-cigarettes help traditional smokers kick the habit. E-cigarettes may be safer than ordinary cigarettes, but only by degrees. Poison control centers nationwide report increases in calls concerning liquid nicotine cases, jumping from one per month in 2010 to 215 in February of this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For some reason, e-cigarettes are becoming popular among young people in Utah, particularly in Weber County, where health officials say almost 20 percent of youths used them in 2013, compared to 13.6 percent of adults. This is a growing public health concern that could turn into a crisis — and just as traditional cigarette smoking finally seemed to be on the way out.
The proposed new FDA rules (a 75-day comment period has been initiated, and final rules won’t take effect for about two years), would require manufacturers to register with the FDA so their ingredients could be reviewed. It would ban health claims without legitimate scientific research and forbid free samples and vending machine sales.
We're not convinced that that goes far enough. It may be that e-cigarettes are every bit as deadly as tobacco, in which case, further health and safety regulation may be warranted.
Meanwhile, Utah lawmakers should require state licensing and give health departments the power to check retailers and manufacturers for compliance to rules.