Proponents of e cigarettes say that it is a disruptive innovation and that smokers can quit smoking by using it as a nicotine delivery device, taking away the addictive craving of cigarettes.

Critics note that if one intentionally breathes in something other than clean air, it is a problem for the lungs. The chemicals placed in the cartridge and the long term consequences of inhaling the vapor still need further study. Others note that e cigarettes are expensive and can still be a gateway to actual cigarette use. To distance these new products from the old, some marketers are avoiding the term “cigarette,” renaming them “e hookahs” or “vape pens.”

In the last year alone, the use of e cigarettes has more than doubled, according to the New York Times, with sales at more than $1.7 billion. The number of e cigarette users in the United States reached 2.5 million last year and, at this rate, is expected to overtake conventional cigarette consumption within the next decade. The growth has come with almost no federal oversight or testing of the safety of the product, leaving it to local jurisdictions to regulate them.

Two bills are currently being proposed in City Council that relate to e cigarette use in Philadelphia. The first seeks to prevent the sale of e cigarette devices to minors, and the second would restrict the public spaces where a person could use the devices.

Teens are being targeted by e cigarette manufacturers. In order to find the next generation of addicted users, they have knowingly placed nicotine in these products and added sweet candy flavors with alluring names. There are now more than 400 brands available to American consumers. Some of these products are derived from tobacco extract some aren’t. The decades that have been spent persuading youths not to smoke are being undermined by clever marketing.

Second, although all e cigarettes are intended to deliver vaporized solutions deep into the body via inhalation, none are currently subjected to safety testing or labeling requirements. Would you knowingly let your kid inhale an untested product? Think about it. You have more information about the potential health impact of your mascara than you do about that of your e cigarette. The City Council bill clarifies that e cigarettes should not be sold to kids under age 18.

Since 2007, Philadelphia has had a highly successful public smoking ban. We simply should not confuse the public by allowing e cigarette vaping to pollute the air.

The safety of vaping remains untested, and the proper expectation of members of the public is that they should be able to enjoy a meal without wondering, “What is that smell in the air?” Major cities like New York, Chicago, and, most recently, Los Angeles have responded by banning the use of e cigarettes in public spaces, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.

If these proposals seem familiar to you, there’s a reason. In the late 1990s, many municipalities in the United States were wrestling with the exact same questions regarding conventional cigarettes.

Though it’s probably safe to say that no municipal authorities were in favor of selling cigarettes to minors, there was little public appetite for enforcement of public smoking bans. Arguments at the time revolved around the anticipated negative economic impact and a desire for freedom from government regulations. Today, these laws are now so commonplace that it’s difficult to remember that their passage came only after decades of hard fought political battles.

Introducing these two ordinances on e cigarettes is the right thing for City Council to do. We should not repeat the awful mistakes of the past while the truth about the impact of these products on our lives is so uncertain.

Frank Leone is director of the Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Walter Tsou is a former Philadelphia health commissioner.

The future of cigarettes

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