A new study by the Democratic members of Congress has demonstrated what many in the public health community feared about e-cigarettes: companies are now actively marketing to children and teenagers. E-cigarette companies are heavily promoting the new devices to teen non-smokers by introducing fruit flavors and advertising on social media. An addiction to nicotine is akin to an addiction to alcohol, and e-cigarettes must be treated just as other tobacco products when promoted to children and teenagers. A ban on any form of advertising must be introduced to ensure that what was once a successful new solution to a public health problem does not spiral out of control among the city’s youth.
A study published in The Lancet found that e-cigarettes, both with and without nicotine, were relatively effective at helping smokers quit. Participants in the study who smoked e-cigarettes with nicotine were better able to abstain from cigarettes than participants who used nicotine patches. However, when applied to a younger demographic, they serve as a gateway rather than as a deterrent to smoking. Regulation of where they can be used and how they can be marketed to consumers is necessary to prevent young people from misusing e-cigarettes.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent much of his time in office supporting laws to combat public health concerns. At the end of his 12-year term, Bloomberg supported the New York City Council when it voted to expand the ban on smoking cigarettes in public spaces to include e-cigarettes. This decision, met with both praise and criticism, served as the start of an initiative to regulate the use of a largely unfamiliar product. The implementation of a more stringent approach can push regulation further than it extended under Bloomberg’s tenure, and de Blasio should make it a priority.
Addiction is not the only negative side effect of nicotine use. It causes an increase in blood pressure and can damage blood vessels. In the long term, nicotine is associated with a narrowing of the arteries and an increased risk of heart attack. E-cigarettes are a useful tool against the extensive health problems associated with smoking but are only beneficial to those who have previously failed to quit. By targeting youths, e-cigarette companies are introducing a harmful substance to a demographic that was not previously exposed to these products. This group needs to be protected from nicotine addiction in the same way it is protected from cigarettes. Limiting e-cigarette advertisements is a justified and reasonable measure in ensuring that they are used in ways that best promote public health.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 15 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]