The Legislature should follow the lead of several North Dakota cities and ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. As it stands now, even with sales bans in Fargo, Bismarck, Casselton, Mapleton and other cities, e-cigs can be (and likely are being) sold to minors all over the state. It’s a gaping loophole in a state law that in every other way treats e-cigs like tobacco products.

E-cigs are touted as an effective option for tobacco users to get off cigarettes, although the research is inconclusive. But they also appeal to kids because they are used by some minors for “vaping,” which kids think is “cool,” according to public health experts. E-cigs don’t contain tobacco, but they can be nicotine delivery devices. Often the substances in e-cigs include candy flavors. There is little doubt the products are aimed at adolescents, according to new research. And kids are taking them up at alarming rates.

That being said, e-cig sellers in Fargo insist it is against company policy to sell to anyone under age 18, no matter what a state’s law or city’s ordinances allow or prohibit. In fact, e-cig retailers say they want a state law that bans sales to minors, and will work with legislators in the upcoming session.

While the retailers’ public attitude is good news, questions remain. Where are kids getting e-cigs? Why is use up among minors? Who is policing what?

Most troubling: There is no question e-cigs are a gateway to smoking among teens. New studies indicate that as more minors try e-cigs (up in several states), chances increase that they will try tobacco and get hooked. Nicotine, whether in an e-cig or a cigarette, is addictive. It should come as no surprise that big tobacco companies are in the e-cig business.

The state of North Dakota, with what appears to be support from e-cig sellers, should close the sales-to-minors loophole. Without informed and firm action, e-cigs could erode the progress that’s been made to reduce tobacco use in the 50 years since the first surgeon general’s report revealed the health risks of smoking.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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