March 20, 2014

Fort Worth looks at banning e-cig sales to minors

The effort is led by departing Councilman Joel Burns.

Councilman Joel Burns is preparing to depart for the green of Harvard Yard, but not before promoting restrictions on electronic cigarette sales to minors in Fort Worth.

At Tuesday’s pre-council meeting, city staff presented informal findings about what other cities in Texas have done, or not done, to curb sales of the smokers’ alternative.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a nicotine solution into vapor that the user inhales and exhales like smoke.

Unlike traditional cigarettes, there is no tobacco in e-cigarettes, and so the conventional wisdom (backed by several studies on smoking cessation) has been that they are a healthier alternative, especially for heavy smokers or people trying to quit.

But the Food and Drug Administration has yet to issue consumer guidelines on potential risks, leaving e-cigarettes in regulatory limbo.

Neither the state nor the federal government regulates sales to minors, although several small and mid-sized Texas cities have tackled the issue, including Frisco and Lewisville.

School districts have asserted their oversight, too. In February, the Fort Worth ISD banned the use of e-cigarettes on district property for both adults and children.

But according to the city’s report, none of the Lone Star state’s largest metropolises has taken similar action.

That soon will change if Burns has anything to do with it.

Burns has expressed concerns over the unknown health effects of “vaping” on kids. A recent study by the Center for Tobacco Research and Education found that use of the devices by teenagers was associated with higher odds of current or future smoking.

In the absence of FDA guidance or more conclusive scientific findings, banning sales to minors seems prudent.

And based on the informal response of council members, a consensus on such limited prohibitions seems likely, although additional regulatory proposals are premature and warrant further discussion.

Fort Worth is still the only large city in Texas that does not ban tobacco smoking in bars, so a broader ban on vaping in public places is not imminent.

But it’s probable that Burns’ effort on behalf of Fort Worth’s youth will not go up in smoke.

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