Electronic cigarettes under fire for targeting Arizona kids

PHOENIX - In a hidden camera investigation, the ABC15 Investigators found Arizona electronic cigarette kiosk salesmen e-cigarettesselling their nicotine device to kids.

It is not illegal. But, there is controversy over what the devices do to our bodies.

Amir Hakak operates electronic cigarette kiosks in four Valley malls.

He said the e-cigarette helps people kick the real habit.

“It is the same as the patch or the gum. Actually, we add the vapor to it. The smoker gets the sensation, you feel you smoke; you trick the mind,” said Hakak.

It closely resembles a real cigarette. It blows smoke and has nicotine, but has no tobacco. The vapor is actually water.

It comes with a battery and filter in a variety of flavors.

And, it contains nicotine which not only makes it addictive; it also makes it come under the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Administration.

Last July, the FDA found dangerous chemicals in some electronic cigarettes they tested including diethylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze that is toxic to humans.

So then why are these e-cigarettes sold in a variety of flavors at kiosks in the mall — where teens regularly hangout?

That’s the question John Wickwire asked when his 17-year-old son came home from the mall.

“He come (home) excited and saying, ‘Oh yeah, there’s this new thing. It’s so cool. They have these flavors,’ and I’m like, ‘what is it?’ Oh, it’s this new kind of cigarette,” said Widkwire.

“We think this is cutting edge,” said former Arizona congressman, Matt Salmon, who helped push through one of the first public smoking bans.

He doesn’t smoke, but has seen devastating effects of smoking on his family members.

“Our product is marketed to long-term committed smokers who are killing themselves with combustible tobacco,” said Salmon.

Today, Salmon leads the Electronic Cigarette Association with very specific rules: they don’t make health claims, don’t sell to minors, and say they shouldn’t be sold at kiosks in the mall. And just like real cigarettes, they should not sell flavors targeting children.

But, we found just the opposite. Using a hidden camera, we went to a “Smoking Everywhere” kiosk in the Arrowhead Mall in Glendale.

Not only did the salesman make health claims saying the E-cigarette helps with influenza and pneumonia, but he sold it to our underage shopper.

With permission from his parent, Zach asked to buy the nicotine refills. They sold him 10. They never asked him for his I.D. and never even asked him his age. He is 16.

“This was a critical mistake,” said Hakak, “You can come and check at each of our locations again. There is no way that it could happen again. “

Well, 10 days later, we went back to the same kiosk in the same mall with the same child.

And the very same thing happened. Once again, Zach bought 10 nicotine refills. No one asked him his age or for his I.D.

The only difference this time was that they charged him half as much.

Wickwire thinks there’s a better place for this product than the mall.

“It’s nicotine. It’s addictive. It should be in a drugstore,” said Wickwire.

The FDA warns against the product being sold to minors because of limited testing.

Many countries have banned the cigarettes. But in the U.S., only one New York county bans them.

Visit the FDA’s website for more information about electronic cigarettes.
By: Joe Ducey, Abc15

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