E-cig warnings are bipartisan issue

Published 11:05 pm Friday, March 11, 2016

Did you know that seven out of 10 children under the age of 17 are exposed to advertisements for e-cigarettes?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2014 more than 18 million middle and high school aged children in the United States were exposed to ads for e-cigarettes. Experts expect the e-cigarette industry to grow to $50 billion by 2025. E-cigarettes have become an increasingly popular product, used by almost 2.5 million people in the United States.

E-cigarettes have been thought of as a tool to help smokers quit smoking or as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. But in reality, E-cigarettes are being used as a “gateway” to get our children addicted to the nicotine and, ultimately, on stronger tobacco products. E-cigarettes also still pose the same nicotine-related health risks as traditional cigarettes.

As it stands right now, neither e-cigarettes nor their advertisements carry any warning labels—even though they carry the similar dangerous effects as traditional tobacco products. While e-cigarettes carry a largely unknown public and individual health effect, according to the American Lung Association, almost all e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is the highly additive (and also dangerous for your health) substance found in traditional tobacco products.

I, and several other members of the Alabama Legislature, believe it is time to require e-cigarette packages and advertisements to include a warning label that simply says, “Warning: contains nicotine which may be addictive.”

Calling for the labeling these dangerous products and their advertisements is not a partisan issue. Elected officials on both sides of the political aisle agree that dangerous products like these should include basic consumer warning labels. We were elected to serve the people of Alabama, and it is our duty to serve the people and to keep them safe. Warning labels on e-cigarettes are an obvious step to take.

I want to thank Rep. Merika Coleman, from Birmingham, for being a leader on this issue and bringing legislation to require these warning labels. She has worked hard to build a coalition of legislators to support this bill, and I appreciate her leadership on this issue.

Over the last five years, spending on advertising for e-cigarettes has shot up, and has been heavily targeted to our older children. The CDC reports that 69% of middle and high school students are exposed to advertisements for e-cigarettes. The same themes used in traditional tobacco product marketing materials for teens—sex, independence and rebellion—are being used in e-cigarette ads. We’ve warned our children about the dangers of traditional tobacco; we should also warn them about the dangers of e-cigarettes. Like with most things, the technology around tobacco has evolved and we must evolve our laws as well.

E-cigarettes can be a gateway product to further tobacco use. That’s why producers target their products toward children, even though children can’t legally purchase them. The sole purpose of making e-cigarettes “cool” is to get a new generation hooked on the highly addictive nicotine. Smoking traditional cigarettes isn’t “cool” anymore, so nicotine producers had to come up with another way to hook this tech-centered generation. E-cigarettes do exactly that.

Countless studies have shown the harmful, negative effects of nicotine on brain development, no matter the method of delivery. The American Lung Association reports that the newer e-cigarette devices, designed with “tanks” to have a higher voltage, also deliver a greater concentration of nicotine: More nicotine equals a greater chance of addiction. That alone should be enough to merit a warning label.

There are other risks associated with nicotine and e-cigarettes. Nicotine can harm brain development in our children. Nicotine also causes higher blood pressure, leading to a greater risk of heart attack or stroke, as well as higher blood sugar, which causes problems for people who are diabetic or at risk of becoming diabetic.

In light of these facts, requiring e-cigarette advertisements to have warning labels is an obvious step to take. Legislators are not trying to prevent companies from advertising their products, or even regulate their industry. We just believe that, with their health risks and addictive nature, e-cigarette advertisements should carry a warning label to make sure the public is aware of the dangers of using their products.

Putting a warning on advertisements is no more an inconvenience than the disclaimers that politicians or pharmaceutical companies are required to put on their ads. This is a very reasonable thing to request.

This is not about partisan politics. This is about common sense and public safety. Most of all, this is about protecting our children. I hope the legislature comes together to pass Rep. Coleman’s bill. Our children’s health-even their lives-depend on it!

Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.