A Kansas law goes into effect Sunday prohibiting the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. That’s fine with some distributors — they say they already do that — but it doesn’t go far enough for some anti-tobacco groups.
They would like e-cigarettes to fall under the same public regulations as tobacco, at least until more research is done.
“We don’t know the specific health risks,” said Jodi Radke, director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ Rocky Mountain and Great Plains region.
But e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than actual cigarettes because they simply have fewer ingredients, said Ray Story, president of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.
“A person with bad breath emits more things in one exhale than an individual that smokes an e-cigarette,” he said.
E-cigarettes don’t actually have tobacco in them, but they do contain cigarettes’ addictive ingredient — nicotine.
On the outside, e-cigarettes often look like real ones but they’re heavier. They’re powered by a lithium-ion battery and have a chamber where the nicotine, stored in a separate cartridge, is heated up and converted to a vapor. E-cigarettes also light up at the tip like real cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are being marketed in many ways, including as a method of enjoying the smoking experience in areas where real cigarettes are banned or as a cessation aid for smokers.
Ellyn Warford is one example.
Warford, assistant manager at My Smokeless Deluxe, an electronic cigarette kiosk in Oak Park Mall, smoked for seven years before using e-cigarettes to quit. They don’t hurt her eyes like real cigarettes do, she said, and she doesn’t smell like smoke anymore.
The relatively new product also comes in flavors like fruit and candy, though, which prompted concerns — including among lawmakers — about children wanting to try them. Some have even been designed to resemble USB drives or pens.
Doug Jorgensen, president of Kansas’ Alcoholic Beverage Control, said he received phone calls from school resource officers asking how they could regulate e-cigarettes because students were bringing them into class and onto school grounds.
Jorgensen’s office will oversee enforcement of the new regulations in Kansas. Missouri has not taken a similar step.
Several schools in Johnson County said they haven’t had problems with students “lighting up” e-cigarettes, although some are starting to include e-cigarettes in their smoking policies.
Warford said her kiosk doesn’t get too many younger customers. The client base mostly falls between the ages of 30 and 50, and many of them are smokers looking for a way to quit.
Starter kits, which usually include the e-cigarette itself with cartridges and chargers, usually run anywhere from $60 to $150. Replacement cartridges usually cost between $10 and $30.
There doesn’t seem to be a state-level push yet in Missouri or Kansas to place e-cigarettes under smoking bans or other restrictions to which actual cigarettes are subject.
Jorgensen and Thompson said they didn’t think e-cigarettes fit under smoking bans because there’s no smoke being emitted from them — just vapor.
Whether e-cigarettes pose a health risk in public places remains a hazy point of contention.
“I think if they’re going to ban them they need to come out with a real reason why these are more harmful than tobacco,” Warford said.
But the vapor concerns anti-tobacco groups. Radke, of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said there hasn’t been enough testing to determine whether the vapor is harmless or not.
“There have been carcinogens found in some of the vapor,” she said.
Mary Jayne Hellebust, executive director of the Tobacco Free Kansas Coalition, said “legitimate concerns” remain about how e-cigarettes work and possible consequences for both those who smoke them and people who come into contact with the vapor.
“It may not be considered a tobacco product, but it certainly contains nicotine,” Hellebust said.
The big concern is the unknown, said Chris Masoner, government relations director for the American Cancer Society’s Kansas chapter.
“They’re such a new product that they haven’t undergone any real independent evaluation as far as what’s in them and what the long-term effect of using e-cigarettes is,” he said.
That’s a concern Story, of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, understands.
“Yes, it is an addictive drug,” he said. “But we are trying to sell a product that competes with conventional cigarettes. Nothing more, nothing less.”