Suffolk County Nation’s First County to Ban Electronic Cigarettes from Minors and From Public Indoor Spaces

On August 18, 2009, the Suffolk County Legislature voted to ban electronic cigarettes from public indoor spaces where ‘traditional forms of smoking are already disallowed,’ but allows adults to use the devices anywhere cigarette smoking is permitted. The bill also bans the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 19. The bill has been described as the first of its kind in the nation. It cites the ‘unknown’ amount of nicotine in the battery-operated devices as presenting a ‘significant risk of rapid addiction or overdose.’ Suffolk’s new law is expected to take effect 90 days after the New York Secretary of State signs the bill in Albany.

Electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigarettes, are battery-operated devices that generally contain cartridges filled with nicotine, flavor and other chemicals. The electronic cigarette turns nicotine, which is highly addictive, and other chemicals into a vapor that is inhaled by the user. They deliver nicotine without burning tobacco like conventional cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes are designed to mimic the look and experience of smoking a conventional cigarette, down to their battery-powered glowing red tip.

Manufacturers of e-cigarettes are trying to avoid coming under the regulatory powers of the FDA by asserting that e-cigarettes should be considered as a tobacco product, as opposed to a drug. Manufacturer Smoking Everywhere did not seek FDA pre-approval under the theory that a regulatory loophole allowed the sale of the devices as long as they were not marketed for smoking cessation, such as Chantix. E-cigarettes have become quite controversial.

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confiscated shipments from overseas of e-cigarettes. The FDA is trying to regulate their use under the recently passed Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which brought cigarettes within FDA’s regulatory reach. An FDA report said that they contain carcinogens (of course, it’s still tobacco-based). The agency also reported that of 18 cartridges tested, one contained diethylene glycol, an ingredient in antifreeze. Many are concerned that e-cigarettes are being marketed to children.

In Oregon, the States Attorney General is suing Florida-based e-cigarette company Smoking Everywhere, alleging that the made false health claims about its device and targeted children with sweet flavors such as bubblegum, chocolate, and cookies ‘n’ cream. Advertisements use young female models who look like teenagers. Further, as part of its advertising campaign, Smoking Everywhere staged a promotional event on the Howard Stern radio show that told listeners: “For kids out there, you still look cool ’cause, like, it still looks like a cigarette…” E-cigarettes are readily available online and in shopping malls. In addition, they do not contain any health warnings comparable to FDA-approved nicotine replacement products or conventional cigarettes.

Defenders of e-cigarettes counter by pointing out that the levels of tobacco-specific nitrosamines (the carcinogens) detected in electronic cigarettes were below the level allowed in nicotine replacement products, such as nicotine patches, inhalers, and gum. The level of the same tobacco-specific nitrosamines in conventional cigarettes is at least 300 to 1,400 times higher than what has been detected in electronic cigarette cartridges. They say that e-cigarettes cannot be regulated as drug devices because the companies did not claim their product improved users’ health, or affected the body any differently than smoking a normal cigarette.

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