One of the first lessons of marketing is that novelty sells. That is why all those products you’ve seen a million times before are invariably marked “New!” at the point of sale. But every now and then, something truly innovative comes along and starts selling briskly even before consumers know very much about it. The novelty of e-cigarettes for erstwhile smokers is almost irresistible. They are in essence a nicotine delivery system that dispenses with the sooty old-school ritual of burning tobacco and inhaling the toxic results, which made a mess of pretty much everything from car interiors to mortality rates. The propylene glycol vapor produced by e-cigarettes is “generally recognized as safe” by the Food and Drug Administration, and it also seems to vaporize the guilt and stigma of modern-day smokers. No wonder the top four tobacco companies started marketing e-cigarettes.
The idea of e-cigarettes isn’t exactly novel; the first prototype was patented in 1963. But the product wasn’t widely available until the last few years. The Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association reports that in the five-year period between 2008 and 2012, e-cigarette sales grew from 50,000 to 3.5 million. And in nearly half the states, Connecticut included, their sale is not regulated in any way, which means it remains legal for the devices to be sold to minors. Fortunately many retailers, including the outlets in Newtown, know instinctively that selling addictive substances like nicotine to children is wrong. They have taken it on their own initiative to apply the same restrictions on the sale of tobacco to e-cigarettes. It’s time the state legislature did the same.
On March 12, Governor Dannel P. Malloy proposed legislation to ban the sale of e-cigarettes and other “vapor products” to those under the age of 18. As the debate gets traction, it appears that the instincts of our local retailers are spot on. Though the industry markets this product as a “reduced-harm” alternative for smokers and asserts that nicotine has benign effects akin to caffeine, health professionals are increasingly sounding alarms about the long-term effects of nicotine on cardio-vascular systems, blood pressure, tumor growth, and pregnancies. The harm may be “reduced” but it is still there.
Nicotine is highly addictive, as any tobacco smoker knows. While its physiological effects may seem as slight as caffeine, as Newtown’s school health coordinator pointed out in our reporting on the subject this week, “You would not be drinking coffee every 20 minutes, which is about how long nicotine affects the body.” Additionally, a recent study by the University of California at San Francisco found that adolescents who used e-cigarettes were more likely to smoke cigarettes and less likely to quit smoking.
It’s time to go with our better instincts and place some sensible restrictions on the sale and use of e-cigarettes by minors.