The jury is still out on whether electronic cigarettes are as bad for our health as tobacco cigarettes. Fortunately, Ohio lawmakers are proceeding with a bill which will make them less accessible to minors.
House Bill 144, approved 32-0 in the Senate this week, prohibits those under age 18 from obtaining, possessing or using e-cigarettes. Any store that sells them will have to ID the buyer, much the way they already do for tobacco products.
Youth who ignore the ban could be cited to juvenile court.
State Rep. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay, and state Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, are among those who have backed the proposal.
The bill, which is expected to be signed by Gov. John Kasich, is the state’s first e-cigarette regulation, and comes when the number of smokers in the state is on the rise.
While some “traditional” smokers are turning to e-cigarettes, which are marketed as a healthier alternative to tobacco, others may be taking their first puff electronically.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that provide users with vapors containing nicotine, and are available in a variety of flavors, which makes them attractive to youth.
Their popularity may be because they allow users to get nicotine without as many added chemicals, tar, or odor of regular cigarettes.
But few studies have yet explored what chemicals are in them, and in what concentrations, and whether those levels are harmful.
While most legislators agreed e-cigarettes should be kept from minors, some groups, including the American Lung Association, felt the bill could have done more.
Had e-cigarettes been grouped with other tobacco-derived products under Ohio law, instead of as “alternative nicotine products,” they would have been subject to more state tax. That would have discouraged young people.
Still, the bill could keep teens from developing a lifelong addiction to nicotine and tobacco products. Studies have shown that few people over the age of 40 start smoking, and that most smokers start when they are young and continue into adulthood.
The e-cigarette law comes a month after the release of the 2014 Surgeon General’s troubling report that concluded that the battle to reduce tobacco use has “all but stalled.” Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.
The report found that about half a million people a year die from tobacco-related illness, which costs $280 billion a year in health care costs and lost productivity.
Each day, 3,200 youth smoke their first cigarette or e-cigarette.
In Ohio, where one in five people smoke, tobacco causes about 18,500 deaths annually and costs the state’s economy more than $9 billion.
E-cigarettes may help wean some smokers off tobacco, and be less harmful to the body. But there is still more to know before they can be classified as safe.