Health officials call for regs on e-cigarettes


Public health officials from some of the country's largest cities said Thursday they are concerned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not doing more to keep electronic cigarettes, especially candy-flavored ones, out of the hands of children.

“It is worrisome that most retailers across the country can sell these e-cigarettes to minors,” Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said at a congressional briefing, where she was joined by health officials from New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The FDA announced last week that it is considering new e-cigarette regulations, which would include a ban on sales to children under the age of 18. 

But critics say the rules do not do enough to prevent children from smoking e-cigarettes. One of the biggest complaints is that the rule does not address candy-flavored e-cigarettes, which they say are subtly marketed to minors. 

Critics also complain that the FDA is dragging its feet on the regulations. Until the rules go into effect, retailers can continue selling e-cigs to minors in most places, Ferrer pointed out.

In the absence of FDA regulation, some cities have enacted their own rules preventing stores from selling e-cigarettes to children. The health officials recommended the FDA consider some of the measures their cities have already implemented. 

“Three years ago, Boston banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors,” Ferrer said.

“We decided to treat e-cigarettes the same way as we treat real ones,” she added. “People aren't able to use them in the workplace, in bars and restaurants, and most recently, parks.”

Chicago has taken similar steps to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of children. Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair said the city restricts the sale of candy-flavored e-cigs in stores near schools. The city also requires e-cigs to be sold behind the counter, because “before you could go into the store and find e-cigarettes sitting right next to the candy,” he added.

Choucair said he is trying to protect children from “picking up a deadly habit.”

New York City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said the Big Apple has banned the sale of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to people under the age of 21. 

“We have been very concerned about the emergence of e-cigarettes,” she said.

The health officials said one of their biggest concerns is that bubble gum- and cotton candy-flavored e-cigarettes target children.

“I think everybody knows that bubble gum is for kids,” Bassett said.

Los Angeles Health Director Jonathan Fielding said he is concerned that e-cigarettes could serve as a “gateway drug” that gets children hooked on tobacco products.

What I can tell you is it's not safe to call these products safe,” Ferrer said.