In 1996, the Dutchess Country Department of Health in New York received one of 10 Health Education Awards presented by the state health department. The department was awarded the “Outstanding Health Education Programming” honor for its Tobacco Compliance Check Program, which notably prohibited the sale of tobacco products to minors. Nearly 20 years later, the same county has announced its first documented sale of an e-cigarette to a minor, after revisions were made in the state of New York’s Public Health Law in late 2012 prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.
Unlike other tobacco products, there are no federal restrictions on e-cigarette sales to minors. Dutchess County’s laudable extension of its youth tobacco access laws to e-cigarettes will restrict youths’ access to a widely available, affordable, enticing, and addictive product. Indeed, e-cigarettes are available in flavors such as vanilla, menthol and piña colada -- flavors that the FDA banned from traditional cigarettes because of their potential appeal to youth. Dutchess County’s first documented sale of an e-cigarette to a minor should serve as an alert to FDA to extend its regulatory authority to e-cigarettes to protect public health.
While evidence is not yet available, e-cigarette use by youth could have negative public health implications. For youth who have never used cigarettes before, e-cigarettes could act as a gateway to a life-long addiction to nicotine. We know that thousands of youth try cigarettes each day and we in public health work hard to prevent the progression to regular smoking. As scientists work to understand more about the addictive potential and behavioral consequences of e-cigarette use, it is imperative that FDA regulate these products and keep them out of the hands of youth.