PORTLAND, Ore. — The state of Oregon has gone to court to block the sale of electronic cigarettes on the same day that a New York county banned their sale to minors.
Oregon Attorney General John Kroger and Jon Cooper, majority leader of the Suffolk County Legislature on Long Island, N.Y., said Tuesday the lawsuit and the ban are both the first of their kind in the nation.
Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices typically made out of plastic designed to look like a traditional cigarette, including a light that simulates its glow.
But instead of tobacco that burns and creates smoke, the “e-cigarettes” use a heating element to vaporize water mixed with ingredients in a disposable cartridge, which can include liquid nicotine.
The e-cigarettes are mostly imported from China by companies that claim they are safe because no smoke is generated or inhaled, only water vapor. But a recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration test of 19 e-cigarette brands found more than half contained a cancer-causing substance.
Kroger and Cooper said the FDA has never declared e-cigarettes safe for public consumption.
“It’s my duty to protect the public from products that are falsely advertised as safe,” Kroger said.
Kroger and Cooper also said an additional concern is the flavors offered with e-cigarettes, such as bubblegum and chocolate, that attract teenagers and even younger children.
“It would set us back decades in efforts to educate young people that smoking is not cool and it’s bad for them,” Cooper said.
Two major U.S. e-cigarette importers, Smoking Everywhere Inc. and Sottera Inc., have sued the FDA in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., claiming the agency does not have authority to regulate their product.
Kroger already has reached an agreement with Sottera, maker of the Njoy brand, to halt sales in Oregon.
Smoking Everywhere, based in Florida, declined requests by the Oregon attorney general’s office to restrict its sales, leading to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Marion County Circuit Court at the state capital in Salem.
The lawsuit also names Elico Taieb, president and CEO of Smoking Everywhere.
Taieb did not return calls from The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The Oregon complaint states that other nicotine delivery devices - such as smoking cessation devices - have to be approved by the FDA, which “requires product manufacturers to submit competent and reliable scientific evidence that demonstrates that a product is safe and effective for its intended use.”
Similar language was contained in the resolution adopted by the Suffolk County Legislature in New York, which bans the sale of e-cigarettes to anybody under 19 and also restricts their use in public places that already bar tobacco products, such as bars and restaurants.
The New York resolution still must be approved by County Executive Steve Levy, whose spokesman said Tuesday he favors it.