Californians can puff nicotine without lighting up from cigarettes

Sidestepping laws against smoking in public, Californians now can puff nicotine without lighting up from “cigarettes” that contain no tobacco.

Electronic cigarettes are touted as a way to smoke anywhere, anytime, without harmful tar, odor, butts, flame or secondhand smoke.

“No one can tell you ‘No’ anymore,” claims one e-cigarette company, Smoking Everywhere, which describes its product as looking, feeling and tasting like a “real” cigarette.

But using high technology to satisfy smokers’ cravings is sparking a backlash from some California lawmakers, largely because e-cigarettes are not regulated and can be sold to minors.

State Sen. Ellen Corbett has introduced Senate Bill 400 to allow only adults to purchase e-cigarettes, which produce a nicotine vapor and come in flavors that might appeal to youth.

“Just because there’s a new technology, why would you make nicotine available to young people when you don’t normally?” the San Leandro Democrat said.

The Senate, by passing a Corbett resolution, also has urged the federal government to ban all sales until the federal Food and Drug Administration deems e-cigarettes safe.

Tobacco companies have taken no position on Corbett’s legislation.

E-cigarettes are sold online, at some retail stores, and at mall kiosks in Fairfield, San Jose, Santa Clara, Pleasanton and elsewhere.

Buyers can opt for nicotine levels from high to zero. Flavors range from tobacco to mint to chocolate or strawberry.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, in a letter to Corbett, said its public health department has received “multiple reports of teens being offered e-cigarettes at local mall kiosks.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that e-cigarettes could be a gateway that leads youth to try tobacco products.

But Matt Salmon, a former Arizona congressman who runs the Electronic Cigarette Association, representing about a dozen firms, said that members are committed not to sell to minors.

“I just think it’s common sense that you don’t want kids hooked on nicotine,” Salmon said. “That’s a bad precedent, bad policy.”

Besides, kids who are determined to smoke would seek cheaper tobacco products rather than fork out about $80 for an e-cigarette starter kit that accommodates $2 cartridges, he said.

“It’s committed, long-term smokers that are buying this product,” Salmon said.

Australia and Hong Kong have banned the sale of e-cigarettes, while several other nations have restricted the product.

In the United States, it would make little sense to crack down on e-cigarettes while permitting the adult sale of tobacco cigarettes, whose health dangers are indisputable, Salmon said.

“It’s about freedom,” he said of e-cigarettes. “It’s about a whole host of things. But many people out there feel that this is a far better alternative for them than tobacco.”

E-cigarettes are not marketed as a smoking cessation product, but many consumers have used them for that purpose, Salmon said.

The fledgling industry, several years old, projects nationwide sales of about $100 million this year, Salmon said.

Smokers interviewed randomly Wednesday in downtown Sacramento had mixed views.

Sheila Tripp, 46, said the benefits would be well worth the $80 start-up cost.

“It’s a good thing,” she said.

But Ezechial Taylor, 20, considers e-cigarettes an unnecessary gimmick.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” he said.

Made primarily in China, e-cigarettes can closely resemble tobacco cigarettes in color and appearance – with circuitry to light up the tip when puffed – or they can be far less conspicuous, resembling a dark ball-point pen.

Smoking Everywhere, one of dozens of firms selling e-cigarettes, says one of the attractions is that puffing produces “vapor-like smoke just like a real cigarette.”

An e-cigarette consists of three parts: a rechargeable lithium battery and indicator light; a heating element to create the vapor-like mist to be inhaled; and a disposable mouthpiece cartridge containing nicotine, flavoring and propylene glycol, a colorless liquid commonly used as antifreeze.

© Copyright: Sacbee

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