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Puff Piece

Albany County restricts the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors

by Laurie Lynn Fischer on January 5, 2011

A new Albany County law for bids the sale of battery-operated liquid-nicotine delivery systems to anyone under the age of 18. Albany County is one of the few places in the nation to outlaw e-cigarette sales to minors. Other jurisdictions, including Suffolk County and the state of New Jersey, have barred the use of e-cigs in established no-smoking zones, a move that was proposed, but ultimately rejected in Albany County.

Legislator Shawn Morse (D-District 18) called Local Law G, which took effect this week, “one step in the right direction,” referring to e-cigarettes as “one more blatant attempt to recruit new addictive victims.”

Law G used the metaphor of training wheels on a bicycle to depict e-cigarettes. Legislator Tim Nichols (D-District 20), one of the bill’s co-sponsors,” called e-cigarettes a “very, very dubious product that is now in our malls” and “a way to get around the Clean Air Act by smoking in restaurants, bars, wherever.”

“They‘re marketed as nicotine-replacement therapy—as a way to quit smoking,” Nichols said. “There’s no scientific evidence to make such claims. People are lured into this product to no avail. The idea of smoking itself is now acceptable as long as it’s this e-cigarette. It sends a mixed message to children.”

According to the law’s primary sponsor, Legislator Bryan Clenahan (D-District 30), enforcement will ultimately be up to the county health department, “I definitely like the idea of sting operations where we send kids to see if they’re being illegally sold,” he said.

Violators of Law G can be charged with a misdemenor and fined up to $1,000.

Critics of the cigarette simulators say they haven’t been thoroughly vetted by the Federal Food and Drug Administration. Also at issue is their potential as a gateway to nicotine addiction. Like ice cream, the ignitable nicotine cartridges come in different flavors like chocolate, vanilla and cherry.

Unlike over-the-counter nicotine patches or gum, e-cigarettes gratify the oral fixation of smoking. They are made of hard plastic, but using them mimics the sensation of holding and inhaling a cigarette, complete with a tip that glows when it heats up and an exhaled vapor cloud.

In the long run, e-cigarettes are arguably cheaper than regular cigarettes. E-cigarettes are not taxed, and once you buy the vaporization unit, all you need to purchase are refills.
Justin Paulson, regional manager of Electronic Cigarettes, Inc., which has a kiosk at Crossgates Mall, has supported an 18-year-old age cutoff all along, but opposes restricting where his customers may “vape” (short for vaporize). The practice has gained in popularity, and sales have steadily increased over the past couple of years, said Paulson.

“Big Tobacco is using lobbyists to make electronic cigarettes seem worse than they are,” Paulson argued. “They don’t want to see something like this come out.”

Electronic cigarette manufacturers worldwide claim that their products are not harmful to smokers or those in their vicinity. Nevertheless, some countries, including Canada and Australia, have banned them altogether.

In the United States, e-cigarettes are not regulated by the federal government. However, tests by the Food and Drug Administration have found some of them to contain deadly substances, including the obvious nicotine and the respiratory irritant dietylene glycol, which has been linked to infection.

Action on Smoking and Health filed the first petition in the country asking the FDA to begin treating e-cigarettes like other nicotine-substitution products. In spite of testimonials used in marketing, there is no way of knowing whether they really help people quit smoking, whether they are safe for consumers, or whether they emit the electronic equivalent of secondhand smoke, said John Banzhaf III, special counsel to the ASH.

Banzhaf, 70, a George Washington University law professor, pioneered the anti-smoking and nonsmoker’s rights movements and served as executive director of ASH until his recent retirement.

“It should be regulated,” he said. “These things are manufactured over in China. They may not have the highest quality safety standards. Simply having them on the market can increase the number of deaths.”
By fostering and prolonging nicotine addiction, e-cigs could wind up killing substantially more people than regular cigarettes, he added. Statistically, more people die from heart attack and stroke than all of the cancers, including lung cancer, he said.

Another concern—which Albany County lawmakers attacked with Local Law G—is that e-cigarettes will give youngsters a gateway to the use of traditional cigarettes.

“We know from many studies that candy cigarettes preconditioned kids to accept smoking and made them more likely to become smokers,” Banzhaf said. “Here we have a product that comes in kid-friendly flavors like strawberry, raspberry, lemon, lime and orange. It’s attractive to kids who otherwise might not start smoking. Once they’re addicted to nicotine, it’s likely that they’ll wind up being smokers.”