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Electronic Cigarettes

Smoking electronic cigarettes, or "vaping," as it is commonly known, is gaining in popularity as more smokers are switching from regular tobacco cigarettes to these new alternatives, thinking they are safer. Teens and young adults are also being lured into trying them as a new, cool alternative to traditional smoking. However, there haven't been any conclusive studies on electronic cigarettes and their potential long-term health risks.

Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes or e-cigs, are tobacco free, battery-powered devices that turn liquid nicotine into a vapor that you inhale. E-cigarettes consist of a mouthpiece with a cartridge containing the nicotine solution, a heating element to turn the solution into a vapor, and a battery to power the heating element. The nicotine for electronic cigarettes comes in a variety of flavors obviously meant to target minors, such as gummy bears, bubble gum, and pink lemonade.

Often e-cigarettes are made to look like real cigarettes. Users breathe in and exhale vapor like they would smoke from a traditional cigarette. The vapor consists of nicotine, flavoring, and other chemicals that turn the vapor white so that it looks like smoke when exhaled. Exposure to formaldehyde, the latest concern about electronic cigarettes, was discovered in a preliminary study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and discussed in a recent LA Times article.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), e-cigarettes have not been fully studied, so consumers currently don't know the potential risks of e-cigarettes when used as intended, how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use, or whether there are any benefits associated with using these products. Additionally, it is not known whether e-cigarettes may lead young people to try other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and lead to premature death.

Currently, California prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to minors in the California Health and Safety Code Section 119405. The FDA has issued a proposal that would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and require warning labels on the devices. The proposed rule would also include the following products under FDA's authority: electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), cigars, pipe tobacco, water pipe (hookah) tobacco, and novel products like nicotine gels and dissolvables, which are currently not under the FDA's authority. A recent news story relates the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is recommending passengers to put their e-cigarette devices into their carry-ons, rather than checked bags, because of a concern that the lithium batteries can explode.

Even though there not many laws on the books yet that regulate e-cigarettes, this will surely change in the future, as more citizens start to deal with the reality of living with e-cigarette use in the workplace, in restaurants, on sidewalks, and in other public spaces where tobacco smoking is currently regulated. A few cities have passed local ordinances, including the City of Rancho Cordova, which includes electronic smoking devices, otherwise known as electronic cigarettes, in its definition of tobacco. Therefore, electronic cigarettes are banned everywhere that other tobacco products are banned. This is a trend that will likely continue as e-cigarette use continues to rise. In early 2015, California Department of Public Health issued a public health advisory, urging the state's residents to avoid or stop using e-cigs. 

For more information on this and other "Everyday Law" topics, visit the Sacramento County Public Law Library, "Providing Free Public Access to Legal Information for over 100 years."

By Robyn M. Moltzen, Public Services Librarian
01/15