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OUR OPINION: North Dakota’s e-cig law should protect juveniles

Electronic cigarettes have become mainstream, and there's little doubt the makers of the devices are looking to stay there. After all, their national advertising campaigns use celebrities to tout the coolness of e-cigarettes. It's the 1950s all o...

Electronic cigarettes have become mainstream, and there’s little doubt the makers of the devices are looking to stay there. After all, their national advertising campaigns use celebrities to tout the coolness of e-cigarettes. It’s the 1950s all over again.

Generally speaking, e-cigs simulate cigarettes by using a heating element to vaporize liquids, which often include mixtures of nicotine and flavorings of one sort or another. They do not contain tobacco, but their nicotine is addictive nonetheless.

Even the verb that describes smoking e-cigs – “vaping” – has an unfortunate cool ring to it. Just last week, Oxford Dictionaries announced that “vape” is the 2014 word of the year.

Meanwhile, most states have outlawed e-cig sales to minors, and only 10 – including North Dakota – still allow the sale of the devices to kids. Grand Forks and a few other cities have enacted their own bans, but North Dakota state law hasn’t caught up. The problem is that e-cigarettes aren’t included in the state’s definition of tobacco, according to a Forum News Service report last month. Another problem is the schedule of our Legislature, which meets just once every two years. Sometimes, issues arise quickly.

So here’s a suggestion to state lawmakers: When the Legislature convenes next week in Bismarck, immediately work to get e-cigarettes out of the hands of children. Be quick and be loud, and when the new law is enacted, shout it from the roof of the Capitol building so all young North Dakotans understand the danger of e-cigarettes.

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Since North Dakota’s Legislature meets only once every two years, this just can’t wait.

Why the rush?

Because attorneys general from across the United States spent much of 2014 pushing the Food and Drug Administration to strengthen regulations on e-cigarettes, including how they are flavored and how they are advertised. A report published in the Herald last summer noted that more than 14 million adults and almost 2 million teenagers and preteens have used e-cigs.

It’s important to note that e-cigs can be used to help smokers of traditional cigarettes kick the habit. Whatever adults want to do with them is perfectly fine with us, although we are in favor of de-normalizing all types of smoking. But kids absolutely shouldn’t have access to e-cigs, nor should e-cigarette companies be allowed to use marketing aimed at children.

A loophole exists in North Dakota, and it needs to be closed.

Teen smoking rates in the state are on the decline. The North Dakota Department of Health reported in April that the percentage of students in grades 9-12 who currently smoke fell from 40.6 percent in 1999 to about 19 percent in 2003.

That downward slope shouldn’t be interrupted by easy access to e-cigarettes, by celebrities trumpeting the devices’ coolness, or by Oxford Dictionary’s recent announcement that further publicizes their use.

Our prediction is that the Legislature will indeed close the loophole.

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Here’s to hoping they do it with expediency and flair, so North Dakota kids truly understand the message that needs to be sent.

 

Opinion by Korrie Wenzel
Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

He is a member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. board of directors and, in the past, has served on boards for Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.


As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.



Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103, or via Twitter via @korriewenzel.
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