Editorial: Keep e-cigs away from kids

The Detroit News

The FDA enacted a regulation on e-cigarettes in 2016 that banned the sale of e-cigarettes with nicotine to those younger than 18. Yet, because Michigan has no state law affirming that regulation, law enforcement can’t keep kids from purchasing the nicotine-delivery devices.

Though e-cigarettes for adult use should not be regulated the same as tobacco products, they should be regulated and policed like other substances that pose health risks to children.

The sole purpose of an e-cigarette is to deliver nicotine to the bloodstream. Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm brain development. In addition, some of the liquids contain flavor agent like diacetyl, a compound known to cause extensive lung scarring (called popcorn lung) and cancer, according to the surgeon general.

Despite these risks, an alarming number of kids are using them.

According to a survey conducted by scientists from the University of Michigan, nearly one in three students in 12th grade nationwide said they used some kind of vaping device in the last year, and nearly 17 percent of those students have used a device in the last month.

Young people are drawn to vaping devices because they’re cheap, easy to access and assumed — falsely, experts say — to be safe.

And they aren’t just using it to get a nicotine buzz — a third of monthly users say they use the devices to ingest marijuana.

The most popular of these devices, a sleek thumb-drive called juul, costs only $50, the equivalent of mowing a few lawns. And Michigan kids can purchase them at nearly any corner store, despite that purchase being illegal under the FDA regulation.

Michigan’s failure on a state law means local law enforcement can’t conduct stings and issue fines to convenience stores that sell to underaged kids.

“Police officers in high schools could confiscate products and write tickets to kids but that is not the goal,” says state Sen. Rick Jones R-Grand Ledge. “The goal is to stop the unscrupulous sales of e-cigarettes to minors at drug stores.”

In 2015, Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a package of bills that would have regulated e-cigarettes because he said the bills did not regulate and tax e-cigarette products the same as tobacco.

Jones, who introduced his own legislation last year to ban e-cigarette sales to minors, says the veto was shortsighted.

“Our primary concern should be Michigan children; we should not be worried about a few tax dollars,” Jones says.

As with cigarettes or alcohol, kids can always find some adult who will get it for them, but state government shouldn’t make it easy for kids to pump themselves full of nicotine just because it wants to make some cash.

The committee on regulatory reform recommended Jones’ legislation for immediate effect last year, but ultimately nothing came from his proposal.

The Legislature should consider a similar proposal to ensure that a culture of childhood nicotine addiction doesn’t saddle our children with serious medical problems.