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CDC Director Tom Frieden described the results of the study as “deeply troubling” because “many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine and conventional cigarettes.”
Surveys in Utah have shown similar increases, Bramwell says.
Concern over underage use is justified, but responsible e-cigarette sellers don’t target kids, says Tad Jensen, assistant manager at the Murray location of ElectronicStix, an e-cigarette retailer that has been in operation in Utah since 2008. Like most so-called fringe businesses, e-cigarette sellers and manufacturers in Utah recognize that their industry is under a lot of scrutiny and know that few things could do more damage to their businesses than selling to minors. Jensen says responsible sellers will do their best to never sell to kids, but, as with any age-restricted project, parental involvement is key.
“In order for a kid to get addicted to an e-cigarette, they first have to get their hands on an e-cigarette,” he says. “None of the stores here in Utah are going to be selling to anyone under the age of 19. At that point it becomes the responsibility of the parent or the user to keep it out of kids’ hands.”
Bacher says he and most others in the industry are vigilant about making sure they adhere to state laws and regulations. They know that any violations could lead to hefty fines or even being shut down by the state. Responsible e-cigarette manufacturers and retailers would welcome more certainty and regulation of their industry, as long as it’s based on good science and not fear, Bacher says.
There may be a few irresponsible members of the industry who pursue profit at any cost, but the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers are anxious to ensure that their labeling is accurate, their products are safe and they don’t fall into the hands of children, Bacher says. Increased regulation would benefit both the public and legitimate retailers by weeding out irresponsible companies and giving more credibility to the ones that are rigorous about safety.
While they await government regulations, the industry has taken to policing itself. The Salt Lake Tribune reported in September that 22 of the roughly 25 retailers and manufacturers of e-cigarettes and supplies agreed to a set of standards they had developed.
Full Steam Ahead
Nearly every weekday at around 5 p.m., the line of customers at ElectronicStix and other e-cigarette suppliers starts to grow, as people stop in after work to stock up on e-juice and other supplies. The majority of them are people who used to smoke cigarettes or are in the process of trying to quit, Jensen says.
A product that once seemed like a novelty has become a way of life for thousands of Utahns and millions of Americans. The Centers for Disease Control estimates about 44 million American adults are smokers. Of those, just under 70 percent say they want to quit smoking entirely, and roughly half of smokers made some effort to quit in 2010.
Unless an FDA ruling places strict limitations on e-cigarettes in the near future, it seems likely that more and more of smokers, including those in Utah, will turn to vaping as they try to quit. And when they do, plenty of Utah companies will be anxious for their business.