DENVER (AP) – Orange, strawberry and chocolate are a few of the nicotine flavors for sale at a suburban Denver store selling electronic cigarettes — battery-operated inhalers advertised as a better alternative to smoking because the nicotine is delivered through vapor, not smoke.
While tobacco can’t be sold to anyone under 18 in Colorado, there’s no legal minimum age for e-cigarettes here. That may change: Health concerns over so-called nicotine “vaping” by kids has Colorado considering age requirements for the nicotine devices popping up at marts and mall kiosks.
“We consider this either a quitting aid or a healthier way to smoke,” said Blair Roberts, a 22-year-old sales associate at Colorado E-Smokes. Like many in the e-cigarette business, Roberts welcomes a legal age restriction on e-cigarettes.
“Just like with regular cigarettes, nicotine is very harmful and addictive. This is not for children,” Roberts said.
Invented in China, electronic cigarettes are touted by users as a way to enjoy nicotine without smoke. A liquid nicotine solution is dropped into a vaporizer inside a device designed to look like a cigarette, cigar or pipe. Users inhale nicotine vapor and exhale what looks like smoke but has no odor.
E-cigarettes can be smoked in an office cubicle or an airplane restroom without triggering smoke alarms. Anecdotal evidence abounds from former smokers who insist e-cigarettes helped them kick the habit.
Legislation to impose an age requirement on sales has little opposition so far. The House approved a bill earlier this month, and the measure now awaits Senate action before heading to the governor.
The bill expands the definition of “tobacco products” to include e-cigarettes, meaning it would be illegal to sell them to minors. Violators would face the same penalty as selling traditional cigarettes to minors, a $200 fine. Minors could be fined $100 for possessing an e-cigarette.
New Jersey is currently the only state with e-cigarette age restrictions, though age limits are pending this year in many more state legislatures, including Arizona, Illinois and New Hampshire. New York is considering a statewide ban on e-cigarettes for all, including adults. California’s Legislature approved an e-cigarette ban for all in 2009, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The federal government is starting to address e-cigarettes, too. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration tried unsuccessfully last year to treat e-cigarettes as drug-delivery devices, not tobacco. The agency currently has no jurisdiction over e-cigarettes, and spokesman Jeff Ventura said it has not decided how to proceed.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has said it plans to ban the use of e-cigarettes on airplanes this spring.
Some health advocates say age requirements are the least states should do while federal authorities decide how to regulate e-cigarettes.
A prominent critic of e-cigarettes, George Washington University law professor John F. Banzhaf, says they may be more dangerous than the old candy cigarettes because e-cigarettes are legal for kids in most places, they deliver nicotine and they advertise themselves as safer than smoking.
“In addition to coming in lots of interesting kid-friendly flavors, they’re much more realistic” than candy cigarettes, Banzhaf said. “They give you the same nicotine kick as a real cigarette. They look exactly like smoking.”
The Colorado chapter of the American Lung Association hasn’t backed the age limit. The group believes e-cigarettes should not be regulated like tobacco but rather should be banned altogether, said spokeswoman Wendy Morrison.
One of the sponsors of the Colorado legislation, Republican Rep. Ken Summers of Lakewood, calls an age requirement a good starting point while states await federal action.
“If we’re trying to keep nicotine products out of the hands of minors, that should include e-cigarettes,” Summers said. “Bottom line, we want to discourage nicotine use among teens, in whatever form.”
– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)