DES MOINES — While smoking cigarettes has increasingly fallen into disfavor nationally, electronic cigarettes have become a concern for some.
Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, don't contain tobacco. Instead, they produce a nicotine vapor the user inhales. That means policies designed to prohibit tobacco use or possession, such as those that cover school properties, don't apply. And it means laws governing age limits on tobacco purchase come into question.
Tom Miller, the Iowa Attorney General, is a signatory on a letter sent by the National Association of Attorneys General to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asking for regulations on e-cigarettes. The letter was signed by 36 state and three territorial attorneys general.
Miller said his concern is that the companies marketing the systems may use them as a vehicle to circumvent laws against tobacco purchases by minors.
“I’m concerned about this product, which is really nothing more than a nicotine delivery device,” Miller said. “I don’t think any reasonable person thinks it’s OK for these companies to sell e-cigarettes to children, which is one of many good reasons why the FDA needs to act.”
Miller also expressed concerns that advertising for the e-cigarettes can be construed as presenting a safer alternative to cigarettes. Nicotine itself is known to be addictive, he said in a press release, and e-cigarettes are new enough they have yet to face the careful studies that would determine whether they include harmful ingredients.
Sales of e-cigarettes have doubled every year since 2008 and are projected to reach $1.7 billion this year. Prices have fallen as they have become more popular, increasing availability.
The arguments presented by the attorneys general are similar in many respects to the arguments presented in past decades against tobacco companies. They accuse e-cigarette manufacturers of appealing to youth by using flavorings like chocolate and gummy bear, as well as cartoon characters in advertising.
In 2011 and 2012, the National Youth Tobacco Surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed a sharp increase in e-cigarettes among students. Ten percent of high school students reported trying an e-cigarette in the previous year.
That use has raised concerns, as demonstrated during this week's meeting of the Ottumwa school board. Superintendent Davis Eidahl told board members the Iowa Association of School Boards has provided members with sample regulations to ban e-cigarettes on school property.