Both the Santa Fe City Council and some state legislators from both parties are considering proposals to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. The governor also has expressed support of the idea.
Given the burgeoning popularity of the product, a ban makes sense. E-cigarettes, battery-powered devices that allow a vaporized liquid to be inhaled by the user, are touted by advocates as a safer and cheaper alternative to traditional cigarettes. Use among both adults and minors has doubled in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the jury is still out on the “safer” idea – the federal Food and Drug Administration is set to issue new guidelines on the devices in the near future; health professionals point out that there is yet little research into the effects of nicotine delivered without smoke.
More to the point, many of these devices dispense nicotine, the highly addictive component of tobacco, in the vapor they emit. So how much can the devices really be said to differ from regular cigarettes?
Because of the addiction factor – and the fact that the overall health impact to users has yet to be determined – it makes sense to restrict their use. Minors under 18 are already prohibited from buying cigarettes and other tobacco products, the use of which involve well-established health risks. Likewise it’s illegal to supply minors with tobacco, and there are numerous constraints on the advertising of these products to young people.
At least one Santa Fe e-cigarette dealer says he’s all for a ban on the nicotinized products, though he said he hopes that in Santa Fe at least, any proposed city ordinance will allow the non-nicotinized devices, often delivering flavored vapor, to continue to be sold to minors.
In our view, such pharmaceutical hairsplitting would likely make the ban on nicotinized e-cigarettes for minors unenforceable. Better to restrict the availability of the devices to minors across the board, which also might head off habits that could lead to nicotine versions of e-cigarettes or to old-fashioned tobacco.
For now, the proposed Santa Fe ban applies only to the sale of e-cigarettes with nicotine, but the measure has only now started moving through the City Council review process.
New Mexico and Santa Fe would join more than two dozen other state and local governments in regulating e-cigarettes if the ban for minors were adopted. At this point, tighter regulation makes the most sense.