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Officials, advocates hope state ban on e-cigarettes curbs rising use among kids

PHOENIX – With electronic cigarettes increasingly popular among children nationally, officials and advocates hope a new Arizona law banning sales to those under 18 will pay dividends here.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said e-cigarette use among high school students rose from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 2.8 percent in 2012.

Dr. Sara Bode, a member of Arizona’s chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the law that took effect in September sends an important message that e-cigarettes still deliver nicotine that impairs memory and can lead to cigarette smoking and other addictions.

“Sometimes even just passing the legislation, regardless of what may come of it, is enough to draw attention to the issue, and that’s part of what we need,” Bode said.

E-cigarettes look similar to an ink pen and create a vapor by warming a nicotine-liquid with a small battery-powered heating element, creating a vapor that’s inhaled.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office’s Counter Strike program, which uses youth volunteers to identify stores selling tobacco products to minors, has expanded its efforts to include e-cigarettes, said Erika Mansur, an assistant attorney general.

So far, 12 retailers have been fined for selling e-cigarettes to the minors, while another eight have been fined for selling minors e-hookah, another device that vaporizes nicotine, Mansur said.

While the typical rate for stores selling tobacco products to Counter Strike participants is 15 to 18 percent, so far the rate is about 50 percent for selling e-cigarettes, she said.

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“We are concerned that the fail rate is so high, so we want to improve that by continuing to inspect and to also educate the retailers,” Mansur said.

Leslie Bloom, chief executive of Arizona’s Partnership for a Drug-Free America, said that law or no law parents need to understand the risk of nicotine in e-cigarettes and talk with their kids.

“Having that conversation with your child has been shown to prevent up to 50 percent of kids from using drugs, including nicotine and electronic cigarettes,” she said.

In September, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and 39 other attorneys general sent a letter asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to expand to e-cigarettes the current prohibition on advertising and marketing tobacco products to youth.

Bode, the pediatrician, called addressing marketing to youth a logical next step because teenagers are a vulnerable population when it comes to e-cigarettes.

“E-cigarettes shouldn’t be marketed the way they are,” Bode said. “They shouldn’t be marketed as a safe alternative to smoking.”

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Gretchen Parsons/Cronkite News Service

A Phoenix smoke shop sells electronic cigarettes among its wares.

About electronic cigarettes

- How they work: Battery-powered plastic and metal devices heat a liquid nicotine solution inside a cartridge that users then inhale as a mist.

-Look: Made to resemble regular cigarettes.

- Outlets: Often sold at mall kiosks and online.