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Our view: Acknowledge e-cigs as tobacco products

Stock image / Pixabay

Herald editorial board

In one year, national e-cigarette use among high-schoolers has jumped 75 percent. That's according to a recent report by The Washington Post, which quoted Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

Seventy-five percent. If that statistic is correct, it's mind-blowing. Even if the increase is only half that, it's still a trend that must be addressed.

It's also why it's time for a crackdown on the devices, which vaporize a liquid that usually is nicotine-based and which often comes in fruity flavors that especially appeal to young users.

E-cigarette companies maintain that their products help wean adult smokers from traditional cigarettes and therefore help them combat nicotine addiction. Perhaps that's so, but they aren't adequately acknowledging how their products are affecting children and, especially, teens.

Gottlieb is working on it. The FDA has warned manufacturers that they must work harder to limit use of their products by minors. In particular, it could mean a cutback on the flavored liquids, and it also appears there will be a push to fine retailers who are selling these devices to minors. The Post reported that the FDA has sent more than 1,000 warning letters to stores that have been caught selling e-cigarettes to kids.

This is a good start. Here in North Dakota, we hope the Legislature is taking notice, since North Dakota still doesn't officially consider e-cigarettes as taxable tobacco products.

"I'm not aware the state is deliberately ignoring e-cigarettes as tobacco products, it's just been so long since there's been a change in tobacco tax," Dr. Eric Johnson, president for Tobacco Free North Dakota's board of directors, told the Herald.

The state hasn't updated its tobacco tax since 1993 — well before this recent surge in vaping device use.

At present, there is a 44-cent tobacco tax on cigarette products sold in North Dakota. The group Tobacco Free North Dakota is suggesting e-cigarettes be taxed on a percentage of the wholesale price.

To us, the process and the revenue aren't as important as the acknowledgement. E-cigarettes and related products should fall under the tobacco tax umbrella.

Commissioner Gottlieb calls it an epidemic. We agree, and a crackdown is needed on anyone selling these devices to children and teens.

Likewise, it's time North Dakota recognize e-cigarettes as the tobacco products they are.