Attorney General Tom Miller makes a good point about the need for the Iowa Legislature to talk about the use of electronic cigarettes in the state, particularly by minors.
Relatively new and growing in popularity, e-cigarettes resemble regular cigarettes but are operated by battery. The metal or plastic devices heat a nicotine liquid, creating vapor users inhale.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering regulating e-cigarettes as tobacco products, but no regulations are in place today. Miller is one of 40 state attorneys general who in a letter earlier this year urged the FDA to take such action.
Earlier this month, Miller proposed the state of Iowa: 1) Ban sales of e-cigarettes to minors. 2) Add e-cigarettes to products covered by the state's 2008 Smoke-free Air Act. 3) Tax e-cigarettes higher than the standard state sales tax rate.
We agree with Miller about making the sale of e-cigarettes to minors illegal. Because e-cigarettes have the look, feel and addictive nicotine of tobacco cigarettes, it's both reasonable and prudent for the state to take the step of protecting under-age children from the product, as it does with tobacco and alcohol.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of American middle and high school students who have tried electronic cigarettes is on the rise. Using data from the National Youth Tobacco Study, the CDC found the percentage of high school students who had used e-cigarettes rose from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012. The percentage of middle school users rose from 1.4 percent to 2.7 percent. Altogether, as of 2012, more than 1.78 million middle and high school students in the U.S. had tried e-cigarettes. (The statistics appeared in a story headlined "Electronic cigarette use doubles among teenagers" on the American Cancer Society website, www.cancer.org.)
Simply put, the state of Iowa shouldn't be promoting or encouraging use of nicotine and possibly the use of tobacco by kids.
As for banning use of the product by adults inside public buildings and private businesses, including bars and restaurants, under the state's Smoke-free Air Act because of secondhand health risks or taxing the product at a higher rate, we prefer the state collect more information first. At this point, we aren't ready to support those additional steps.
"Over the past several years, e-cigarettes have developed technologically, and they have grown quickly in popularity," Miller said. "Our state laws, regulations and policies don't address these products, and I think it's time for the Legislature to begin the conversation."
We agree with Miller. It’s time for this discussion in Iowa.