A cigarette, by any other name, is still a cigarette
Tobacco marketers long targeted children to groom the next generation of smokers, a lesson not lost on developers of e-cigarettes.
Just as lawmakers and federal regulators finally outlawed marketing tobacco to children, they should ensure that the same regulations are applied to e-cigarettes.
Originally devised to help tobacco smokers quit, e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that deliver doses of nicotine - the addictive substance in tobacco - in aerosol puffs containing various flavors rather than in smoke. They deliver the addictive substance without the carcinogenic and otherwise harmful substances in the smoke.
E-cigarettes quickly have transcended that role, however. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarettes that are not marketed for therapeutic purposes are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and most states impose no restrictions on their sale to minors.
The results are predictable. The CDC reported that during 2011 and 2012, e-cigarette use among students in grades six through 12 increased from 3.3 percent to 6.8 percent; among middle school students, use increased from 1.4 percent to 2.7 percent. Among high schoolers alone, the increase was from 4.7 percent to 10 percent.
In a recent interview, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden noted that e-cigarettes and "little cigars" fall through regulatory loopholes that make them less expensive than cigarettes. They are particularly attractive to children, Dr. Frieden said, because they usually are flavored, most often with fruit, mint or chocolate.
Several members of Congress have asked the FDA to expedite regulations governing the sale of e-cigarettes, noting that some companies have adopted marketing techniques that have been outlawed for cigarettes, such as the use of cartoon characters.
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Medical Society has asked the state Legislature to apply the same prohibitions covering tobacco sales to minors to e-cigarette sales, and to mandate e-cigarette education with tobacco education in schools.
Federal and state agencies should close addiction's back door by barring e-cigarette advertising and sales to children.