Though electronic cigarettes are a hot trend, one thing is for sure: They shouldn’t be on the rise among youth. On Wednesday, five U.S. senators introduced legislation to prohibit marketing of electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, to children and teens. The Protecting Children from Electronic Cigarette Act, penned by Sen. Barbara Boxer, addresses the important need of regulating what can and cannot be marketed to the nation’s young.
Though advocates of e-cigarettes have lauded the device for helping smokers quit, the unknown long-term effects and potential nicotine addiction could ironically be the younger generation’s gateway into smoking actual cigarettes. The duty to shield youth from e-cigarette advertising might be difficult due to the ambiguity of the lines between what targets youth and what doesn’t, but the lives saved early on make it worthwhile.
The e-cigarette is a battery-operated device that converts cartridges of liquid filled with addictive nicotine, other additives and flavorings into vapor that is inhaled by the user. Since it’s still new, e-cigarettes are not yet subject to federal laws and regulations that apply to traditional cigarettes. Such restrictions include a ban on marketing to youth, legal sale to children and age verification laws.
U.S. Sens. Boxer, Dick Durbin, Tom Harkin, Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey proposed the legislation in hopes of counteracting these risks. More than 1.8 million middle and high school students say they tried e-cigarettes in 2012, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey.
“We cannot risk undoing decades of progress in reducing youth smoking by allowing e-cigarette makers to target our kids,” Boxer said in a statement. “This bill will help protect our children from an industry that profits from addiction.”
From the use of celebrity endorsements to the promotion of varied fruit and candy flavors in e-cigarette advertising, the senators behind the legislation cited the youth-geared promotion that makes such a bill ultimately necessary.
“Tobacco companies advertising e-cigarettes — with flavors like bubble gum and strawberry — are clearly targeting young people with the intent of creating a new generation of smokers, and those that argue otherwise are being callously disingenuous,” Sen. Blumenthal said in a statement.
Though critics of the bill might call it overbroad, the issue is easily resolved by narrowing down the specifics and components of advertisements that are clearly geared toward youth. The bill itself doesn’t list restrictions. Determining of where to draw the line could be tailored to specific ads in a more effective, purpose-driven way.
It isn’t unconstitutional for the government to hold interest in alleviating the effects of tobacco advertising on such impressionable consumers. In fact, e-cigarrettes might be more dangerous than traditional cigarettes precisely because of their flavor appeal, accessibility and unknown health effects.
It might be difficult to suppress all marketing from e-cigarette companies targeting children, but this is a worthy effort for a cause that concerns many young lives who depend on the decisions of today’s leaders.
Valerie Yu is a sophomore majoring in biological sciences and English. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Fridays.