At the end of the 19th century, Coca-Cola contained a pinch of cocaine.
Cigarettes were once “physician-tested” and peddled for their health benefits.
Asbestos was once used to insulate our buildings and no one was the wiser about its potential hazards.
Thanks to oversight, regulation and close study of these and other harmful materials, we live in a world where we enjoy a degree of immunity from everyday threats to our health that were once in the air we breathed and the food or liquid we consumed. But there are still some practices and substances whose effects are still disputed or shrouded in mystery. For a prime example, look no further than electronic cigarettes.
As a story in today’s Observer-Reporter points out, electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have won over admirers who say they are a safe nicotine delivery system that will not generate the health problems that come from tobacco cigarettes. They claim e-cigarettes can help wean smokers off tobacco. But skeptics cite some studies that say the vapors generated by electronic cigarettes could contain carcinogens. They also say that e-cigarettes could be a “gateway” to their tobacco-laden counterparts for younger users.
Writing on the CNN website earlier this month, American Lung Association president and CEO Harold P. Wimmer wrote that “For the makers of electronic cigarettes, today we are living in the Wild West – a lawless frontier where they can say or do whatever they want, no matter what the consequences. They are free to make unsubstantiated therapeutic claims and include myriad chemicals and additives …”
When there is so much doubt and uncertainty, there is one clear way that e-cigarettes should be approached – with caution.
Public and private buildings and institutions should look askance on their use until their secondhand impact can be determined. That’s also why a bill introduced by state Sen. Tim Solobay of Canonsburg that would prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors in Pennsylvania has our support.
Approved by the state Judiciary Committee in December, it is now awaiting a full Senate vote. If the Legislature approves the law and it is signed by Gov. Tom Corbett, the commonwealth will be joining more than half of the country’s other states that have prevented minors from legally buying e-cigarettes.
“Growing use by minors is an alarming trend that must be stopped,” Solobay said last year. This is backed up by data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that e-cigarette use increased from 3.3 percent of students in junior high and high school during the 2011-12 school year to 6.8 percent. Limiting the data to just high school students, the number of e-cigarette users leapt from 4.7 percent to 10 percent in the same period.
We allow adults to gamble, drink, smoke and engage in other legal vices because it is understood that they have the maturity and wherewithal to indulge in moderation and, if they don’t, deal with the consequences. That’s not the case with young people, who can be prone to recklessness and risk-taking. Until the case for or against electronic cigarettes is airtight, we should work to keep our youth away from them.