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NOT FOR KIDS Prohibition on e-cigarette sales to minors justified

How addictive is nicotine? Just ask someone who has tried to quit smoking.

The American Cancer Society says on its website that only about 4 to 7 percent of people are able to quit smoking on any given attempt without medicines or other help. With medicines or help, about 25 percent of those attempting to quit are able to do so for at least six months, according to the ACS. And as with any addiction, there is considerable risk of relapse over the longer term even among that 25 percent.

That's why we think the Kentucky Legislature is on the right path with bills in the Senate and House to address the new and surprisingly little-regulated market for e-cigarettes. The Senate has already passed a bill 36-2 that would subject retailers who sell e-cigarettes to minors to the same penalties that apply to the sales of traditional tobacco products to minors. A bill also has been introduced in the House that would effectively accomplish the same thing by defining e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

We don't generally cheer the addition of more laws and regulations to the existing swamp. But in this case, we think penalties for the sale of e-cigarettes to minors are a no-brainer, and we support them wholeheartedly.

As the Sun's Laurel Black reported in a Sunday article about the issue, e-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that use a heating element to vaporize a nicotine solution. In that regard they are drug delivery systems; in fact, a delivery system for one of the most addictive drugs known to man.

As two local doctors noted in the story, e-cigarettes might be a safer alternative for adults who already smoke because carbon monoxide and other toxins from the paper and tobacco impurities in traditional cigarettes are avoided. But the physicians also said that potential other toxins in the e-cigarette solutions and the long-term health effect of using them are essentially unknown at present.

When it comes to young people, the unknowns reach even farther, since studies of other drugs such as marijuana have shown that some drugs can have permanent effects on developing brains that are not seen in people who don't use the drug until after they are adults.

Any way you slice it, there's a strong case to be made for banning the sale of these devices to minors. In addition to the unknown health risks, young people may be particularly vulnerable to the image of the devices as "high-tech" and thus both glamorous and less risky than traditional cigarettes. And in the process, young people are far more likely to overlook the most serious consequence - the likelihood the devices will introduce them to a lifetime of nicotine addiction.

E-cigarettes may indeed prove to be the lesser of evils for adult smokers in the 75 percent who may never be able to quit even short-term. If you buy into the "harm reduction" theory of addiction, these devices may represent an advance.

But certainly, it should be a crime to market them to minors. The Legislature is acting appropriately and responsibly in advancing legislation to impose penalties for merchants who cross that line.

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