E-cigarettes are not toys

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E-cigarettes — electronic cigarette-looking devices that heat up liquid nicotine into a vapor that is inhaled — are becoming popular despite concerns they could be as bad (or worse) for people’s health than old-school Marlboros.

Since e-cigarettes are not considered a tobacco product by the Food and Drug Administration, they are not subject to federal regulations that prohibit sales to minors, television and radio advertisements, and free sampling.

So, no surprise, the makers and sellers of e-cigarettes are marketing the heck out of the product.

And the e-cigarette companies appear to be targeting young people. E-cigarette companies are preying on young consumers by using candy flavors, social-media ads and free samples at rock concerts, according to a report released Monday by Democratic members of Congress.

According to the report released by Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., a survey of nine e-cigarette companies found most taking advantage of the lack of federal regulations. The tactics used would be illegal for Joe Camel and company.

E-cigarettes come in as many tasty sounding flavors as can be found at a Hawaiian shave-ice stand. They have fun names — Pumpkin Spice, Chocolate Treat, Cherry Crush and Snap — that would seem to appeal to the younger crowd.

This is despicable, and it should be stopped.

The FDA, as well as some health experts, don’t know the side effects of inhaling pure nicotine. They fear that, over time, we will find pure nicotine causes serious health problems. And since there are no mandates on e-cigarettes or nicotine levels, some manufacturers might not disclose all the chemical ingredients and the amount of nicotine won’t be uniform or predictable.

The FDA is considering labeling e-cigarettes as tobacco products, which would place them under federal authority.

The goal is right, but these are not tobacco products. Congress should give the FDA authority to regulate nicotine. The sooner the better.

Meanwhile, public pressure should be applied to at least nudge the e-cigarette industry to stop targeting young people as customers.

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