Though the dangers of cigarettes were long known, it wasn’t until 1971 that television advertisements promoting cigarettes was banned. Those television advertisements that featured the “Marlboro Man” and “Joe Camel” were powerful vehicles that lured in young and adult smokers alike.
As a public relations war was waged against tobacco by public health officials and their initiatives, numerous tobacco alternatives have come to the fore. Among them, e-cigarettes have recently been in the public spotlight. E-cigarette advertisers have been so successful that 60% of the American public are aware of them. The promoters of e-cigarettes have suggested that e-cigarettes allow consumers all the pleasure associated with cigarette smoking with none of the risks of tobacco based cigarettes. Now a controversy rages around the safety and promotion of e-cigarettes.
The purveyors of e-cigarettes have taken the same low road as their tobacco based predecessors in focusing advertising on children. E-cigarettes are available in flavors that kids love like bubblegum, cherry coke, gummy bear and other kid favorites. In addition, some public health officials and parents are concerned about the chemicals in e-cigarettes and also a rising number of accidents associated with them. Some health officials believe that e-cigarettes are “fatally flawed” because they contain nicotine, the very substance that addicts people to smoking in the first place.
Researchers are also concerned that e-cigarettes may lure some former smokers back on the road to smoking again. There are also concerns around how bystanders may be affected by e-cigarette use because so little is known about them. Other health officials are concerned that young people may find e-cigarettes a “gateway drug” just as youthful tobacco users did. A Chinese pharmacist invented the e-cigarette in 2003 and it came to the market in the U.S. in 2010.
The U.S. Federal Drug Administration attempted to regulate e-cigarettes as a drug delivery system but a Federal Appeals Court struck down that attempt. E-cigarettes work by utilizing a small heating coil that vaporizes a nicotine infused liquid to deliver a mist to the lungs of users. The main ingredients of e-cigarettes are nicotine, a flavoring, and propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is a synthetic liquid that is added to food, cosmetics, and certain medications. While propylene glycol is thought to be safe, it is unknown if it is safe when heated into a vapor and inhaled into the lungs. E-cigarettes are sold online and through the mail, so it is easy for kids to get them. A 2012 Center for Disease Control report found that over two hundred thousand children who never used tobacco had used e-cigarettes.
All of the advertising blocks that exist for tobacco products are not in place for e-cigarettes and children are being targeted by e-cigarette advertisers. In addition to possible unknown health risks, a growing number of accidents where e-cigarettes have caught on fire or have blown up in the hands of the user have occurred. E-cigarettes operate from a lithium-ion battery. There have been numerous house and car fires caused as a result of over charged e-cigarettes. The typical event occurs when the e-cigarette is left to charge overnight and once overcharged catches on fire and puts the user’s life in danger.
I find it inconceivable that no government oversight is being exercised over e-cigarettes. Given the abysmal track record of Chinese products in America, such as those seen with tainted dog food and children‘s jewelry, and their general lack of regulation, it is inconceivable that e-cigarettes are not being investigated and regulated. Currently the state of Idaho is attempting to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. The Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health in Washington has officially outlawed the use of electronic cigarettes by minors. As a result of this new legislation, selling e-cigarette devices to minors will also be illegal. Hopefully these efforts will compel the Federal Government to assume a more aggressive posture around e-cigarettes.
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