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Sen. Yarbrough: Ban sales of electronic cigarettes to minors

Electronic cigarettes deliver nicotine through water vapor. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Michael Marconi)

Electronic cigarettes deliver nicotine through water vapor. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Michael Marconi)

A state senator wants to keep electronic cigarettes out of kids’ hands by making it a petty offense for merchants to sell them to minors and for minors to buy them.

“If we’re going to say minors can’t buy regular cigarettes, it doesn’t seem valid to say they can have access to electronic cigarettes,” said Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler. “Hopefully a few less young people will suffer nicotine addictions with this ban.”

The so-called e-cigarettes are battery-powered plastic and metal devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution that users inhale as a mist. They’re available in hundreds of flavors, including cherry, chocolate and beer, as well as the flavors of popular cigarette brands.

Though companies often claim they don’t sell to buyers under 18 or that the e-cigarettes are used to help smokers quit, Arizona youth can legally purchase them even though they can’t buy tobacco products.

SB 1280 won preliminary approval this week from the Senate Committee of the Whole, setting up a final vote that would send it to the House. The penalty for a petty offense is a fine up to $300.

Supporters of the bill say the fruity or candy flavors are one reason why e-cigarettes are popular among young people.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, whose office pushed for a ban and registered its support for the bill, said e-cigarettes can lead children into addiction.

“It seems like another way to get young people addicted to nicotine is by using these flavors to entice them to use these products,” Horne said.

David Goerlitz, president of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, which is based near Atlanta, said the industry supports banning e-cigarettes for minors.

“Businesses that sell to kids, shame on them,” he said. “They should lose their license and be fined severely, just like you would for tobacco. Any law that prevails for tobacco should also prevail for electronic cigarettes.”

James Sanders, who owns A-Z Smoke Free, an electronic cigarette business run online and out of his Goodyear home, said he doesn’t encourage nicotine use by minors in any form.

His website requires patrons to check a box saying they’re 18 before they make a purchase.

“If they’re online and they’re using a credit card and they say they’re 18, I would like to trust that they are,” Sanders said.

When customers make purchases at his home, Sanders said he asks them for ID if they appear to be younger than 18, though most of his patrons are older people who choose e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has attempted to regulate e-cigarettes as unapproved drug-delivery devices and stop them from being imported into the country without further testing, but several e-cigarette companies challenged the FDA’s authority. The FDA lost in federal court in Washington, D.C., in December, and on Jan. 24 a request to appeal the decision was denied.

“Right now, we’re considering our next steps in terms of what we’re going to do moving forward,” said Jeff Ventura, a spokesman for the FDA Center for Tobacco Products.

Because e-cigarettes are unregulated on the federal level, states and municipalities are weighing in on the issue, he said.

Several other states are considering banning e-cigarettes for minors, and Washington recently passed a ban.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said this month that it plans to issue an official ban of electronic cigarettes on airplanes in the spring.

About electronic cigarettes:

• How they work: Battery-powered plastic and metal devices heat a liquid nicotine solution inside a cartridge that users then inhale as a mist.
• Look: Made to resemble regular cigarettes.
• Cost: Starter kits range from about $30 to $90.
• Outlets: Often sold at mall kiosks and online.
• Regulation: A federal court ruled against the FDA’s attempt to regulate them as unapproved drug-delivery devices and block shipments from overseas. The FDA is still deciding on its next move.

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