Regulating e-cigarettes a prudent course of action

It took decades of expansive public health campaigns, and several lawsuits, to educate the American public about the dangers of smoking. That long battle produced strict laws about where and when people could smoke, creating safer environments for non-smokers, and personal health benefits to smokers who were encouraged to quit.

The popularity of electronic cigarettes is threatening to undo some of those public health gains.

E-cigarettes are popping up in restaurants and bars, the workplace and other public places where the smoking of traditional cigarettes is banned. That is creating a controversy about whether the flavored mist emitted from an e-cigarette presents a similar health risk to non-smokers, or at least a public nuisance.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that e-cigarettes among high school and middle school students has doubled since 2011. That’s a disturbing trend. Teens who get addicted to candy-flavored e-cigarettes may be doomed to a lifetime struggling with nicotine addiction.

It’s expected the federal Food and Drug Administration will announce regulations for electronic cigarettes as early as next month. That could trigger a welcome new wave of state and local regulations.

King County is already considering a proposal to include e-cigarettes in the ban on smoking cigarettes, cigars and pipes in public environments. It would also restrict sales to people over the age of 18.

Other states and nations are trying to catch up to Big Tobacco’s end-run around smoking restrictions. France has banned use of e-cigarettes in public places.

State lawmakers should follow the FDA’s lead and adopt statewide regulations on e-cigarettes.