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Cities weigh regulating e-cigarettes

Profile image for By John D. Harden / Staff Writer
By John D. Harden / Staff Writer

Ordinances aimed at keeping minors from buying devices

The growing use of electronic cigarettes by minors is meeting with growing resistance in Denton County.

Five towns in the Denton area have already passed ordinances prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, and several other cities are considering similar moves.

“I think it’s interesting and it’s something we should start looking at addressing,” Corinth City Council member Joe Harrison said. “But I don’t think it’s something that has hit here, yet.”

Towns that have already banned the sale to minors include Cross Roads, Flower Mound, Lewisville, Pilot Point and The Colony. Denton officials have indicated it is not something that is currently being considered.

Tom Adams, former Pilot Point city manager, said Pilot Point wanted to get ahead of the trend.

The ordinance is in the best interests of city residents “and will promote the health and safety,” he said.

The ordinances vary from city to city but are similar to the regulation of tobacco products, which likewise cannot be sold to minors. There currently are no state or federal laws governing e-cigarettes.

Health concerns

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices with an atomizer system that allows users to inhale nicotine vapor or other vapor without fire, smoke, ash or carbon monoxide.

Designed to mimic cigarettes, the devices contain a cartridge filled with a nicotine-laced liquid that is vaporized by a heating element. The nicotine vapor is inhaled by smokers when they draw on the device, as they would a regular cigarette.

The health risks of e-cigarettes are still unknown, but recent studies suggest potential dangers.

A limited analysis by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that the liquid contains carcinogens, including nitrosamines, as well as toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol.

And a study released this month by the Centers for Disease Control found “a dramatic increase” in e-cigarette-related calls to poison centers.

The number of calls rose from one in September 2010 to 215 in February 2014, the CDC found, a rise that also closely mirrors the explosion of interest in the tobacco alternative.

Poisoning related to e-cigarettes can occur in three ways: by ingestion, inhalation or absorption of nicotine from the liquid through the skin or eyes.

“This report raises another red flag about e-cigarettes — the liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes can be hazardous,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a news release. “Use of these products is skyrocketing and these poisonings will continue.”

Officials with the Texas Department of Health and Human Services said they expect more cities to pass ordinances regulating the sale of e-cigarettes as their popularity continues to grow and spread.

State officials say the devices are quickly gaining popularity among middle and high school students. And national data from the CDC found that use nearly doubled among middle school students, from 0.6 percent in 2011 to 1.1 percent in 2012, and increased among high school students from 1.5 percent to 2.8 percent.

Local efforts

The ordinances passed in Denton County vary somewhat from town to town.

In Cross Roads and Pilot Point, it’s against city ordinances for a minor to buy or possess e-cigarettes.

But in Lewisville, the city ordinance prevents the sale of devices or the fluid to minors but does not prohibit their possession by minors.