Our lawmakers, both in Hartford and in Washington, have been speaking out against electronic cigarettes — as well they might. State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, of Meriden, who co-chairs the General Assembly’s Committee on Children, says e-cigarettes are being marketed to young people. Third District U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro calls them “nefarious new nicotine distribution devices.” And U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal recently denounced e-cigarettes and e-hookahs that come in flavors that are obviously designed to appeal to kids.
An industry group, on the other hand (the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association) insists that e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative that keeps millions of people from smoking tobacco, and that they are not being marketed to children — hard as that may be for the average person to believe, when e-cigarettes come in such flavors as chocolate and gummy bear.
But action is being taken: Blumenthal wants the federal government to ban such marketing, while the state Senate has approved a bill that would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, crack down on the sale of loose cigarettes and put more money into smoking prevention and cessation efforts.
As to that last item, it’s certainly high time: Our state is one of the many that have been receiving money under the Master Tobacco Settlement of 1998 — more than $246 billion nationwide, over 25 years. Blumenthal signed on to that settlement when he was Connecticut’s attorney general, but successive state budgets have allocated only a small fraction of the amount recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — less than 10 percent, in fact — for anti-smoking efforts. Fortunately, Meriden has a dynamic smoking cessation program, although the renewal of its funding is in question from year to year.
But as troubling as it may be to learn that devices for “vaping” (that is, for inhaling nicotine-laced vapor without smoke) come in flavors such as “strawberry margarita” and “blueberry blast,” it’s not necessary to ban the flavors, as Blumenthal has urged; we can simply ban the sale of such devices to minors, just as we ban the sale of liquor.
The e-cigarette came along quickly and grew into a multibillion-dollar industry well ahead of state and federal efforts to regulate it.
But now it’s time.