Our Opinion: Lawmakers act on ‘vaping’ amid unknowns

News Tribune editorial

Public debate about e-cigarettes is heating up.

The byproducts — controversy, promotion and opposition — may be outpacing factual information.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered, nicotine-delivery devices that heat liquid nicotine into a vapor that a user inhales. Use is called “vaping” for vapor that is emitted. No tobacco is burned or smoked.

A question arises whether vaping is a step-down phase for tobacco smokers to quit eventually or if vaping will become a popular cultural phenomenon of its own — just as smoking was popular in years past.

The potential for popularity is not lost on e-cigarette manufacturers, who actively are promoting vaping.

Some of those manufacturers are, or are linked to, Big Tobacco. Advertisements emphasize individuality and adventure, not unlike tobacco advertisements of yesteryear. And e-cigarettes are available in flavors — bubble gum, for example — which alarms advocates for children and young adults.

Those advocates fear gains made to reduce smoking among youths may be undermined, particularly if e-cigarettes are determined to be, like tobacco products, health hazards.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has made no determination. According to its website: “E-cigarettes have not been fully studied so consumers currently don’t know: the potential risks of e-cigarettes when used as intended; how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use; or if there are any benefits associated with using these products. Additionally, it is not known if e-cigarettes may lead young people to try other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and lead to premature death.”

That’s a lot of unknowns.

Missouri representatives this week advanced legislation to prohibit use of e-cigarettes and related devices by people under age 18.

The action appears to respond not to health concerns, which are unknown, but to aggressive e-cigarette promotion targeting young people. In that regard, it could be called the “better-safe-than-sorry” bill.

We eagerly await the health findings. In the meantime, we agree with lawmakers and are inclined to err on the side of caution.

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