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Legislature must ban sale of e-cigarettes to youths

Growing up is hard enough without dragging into adulthood a smoking habit. Sales of tobacco products to youths younger than age 18 is a crime in Oregon, but there are many other ways for kids to get their hands on products that threaten their health.

Recently, another tobacco-related product, electronic cigarettes, hit stores across the state, including one in Newberg on First Street. The devices work like this: Instead of smoke burning from tobacco, users inhale vapor consisting of nicotine, flavor additives and other chemicals through a battery-powered device.

Some manufacturers market e-cigarettes as a safe alternative to conventional tobacco products. They are not. Some companies have also targeted teens by giving the flavor additives names like bubblegum, chocolate and cookies. That’s reprehensible.

Fortunately, the owners of Newberg Vapors say they won’t sell their wares to minors, even though current laws says they can. We herald their commitment to the health of our youth.

But other shops, particularly those in major metropolitan centers, have been more concerned with profit than the health of our youth. They have been exploiting the loophole in the law that forbids selling tobacco products to youths by selling them e-cigarettes instead.Jan. 29 editorial

That has got to stop and we call on the Legislature, slated to begin session next week, to add Oregon to the list of 27 states who have so far passed legislation banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

Fortunately, one legislator is ahead of the game. State Rep. Andy Olson (R-Albany) told The Oregonian in December he will introduce legislation to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

“I get the impact of what smoking does,” he told the Portland newspaper. “I’d really be surprised if this bill doesn’t pass easily through the building.”

Olson has an influential backer in his quest — the tobacco industry. Two lobbyists from the tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc. (RAI) and its subsidiary R.J. Reynolds Vapors Co. are in line with Olson.

“RAI and its operating companies support laws that require e-cigarettes to be sold behind the counter only to legal-age adult consumers, and urge positive action by states that do not yet have such legislation,” Richard J. Smith told The Oregonian.

Other quarters are taking action against e-cigarettes. In 2012, Gov. John Kitzhaber signed an executive order banning the use of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, in state buildings. Further, the Oregon Public Health Division recently recommended businesses and local jurisdictions prohibit the use of e-cigarettes. In 2009, the state banned the sale of two particular brands of e-cigarettes after it was discovered the companies were misrepresenting the safety or nature of their products without providing scientific evidence to back up their claims.

Some agencies believe e-cigarettes are a pathway toward more traditional tobacco products. Teens don’t need any more incentive to start smoking. A 2013 Oregon Teens Health Survey determined that 5.2 percent of 11th-grade students and 1.8 percent of eighth-grade students had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. Across the country, the number of middle and high school students that used e-cigarettes doubled from 2011 to 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“They’re intended to deliver nicotine, and there's no reason to think they’re less addictive than cigarettes,” Dr. Bruce Gutelius, a deputy state epidemiologist with the Oregon Health Authority, told The Oregonian. “We know people who use these devices will potentially be addicted to nicotine, especially with increasing use among kids.”

In September, the House Judiciary Committee held a meeting on e-cigarette regulation. The committee’s chairman, Jeff Barker (D-Beaverton), said he is confident hearings will be held on Olson’s proposed legislation.

We’ll be holding them to that. This issue is too important to be lost in committee. The very health of our youths is at stake.




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