Electronic cigarettes growing among youth, not illegal

The electronic cigarette business has boomed over the last few years, but the popular alternative to regular cigarettes is landing in the wrong hands.

Retailers claim e-cigarettes are healthier for smokers because they don’t contain some of the chemicals that regular cigarettes do. You can smoke different flavors and still get a nicotine fix.

But now, KHON2 has uncovered alarming reports that kids as young as seven years old have been caught smoking e-cigs. While it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to buy e-cigs, it’s not illegal for underage kids to smoke them. Children who get their hands on e-cigs can actually use them without getting in trouble.

It’s a problem that has drawn complaints from the Boys and Girls Clubs on Kauai. The director of programs there sent a letter to state lawmakers that says “The youngest one caught smoking was seven years old. We have also caught middle school youth smoking e-cigarettes at our sites as well.”

He says the children are able to either get them from relatives or online and that “youth seem to be able to access these e-cigarettes much more easily than regular cigarettes.”

State Sen. Josh Green, who is also a medical doctor, says a bill is moving forward that would make it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to have or use an e-cigarette. “The last thing we want is children to get hooked on nicotine and then maybe a few years later end up smoking cigarettes,” Sen. Green said. “That would be counter productive for us and we’re trying to prevent that.”

Students from Kapaa High School also sent a letter to lawmakers saying it’s become a real problem because it’s hard for teachers to notice when the students are smoking them, so students are using them more than ever.

Sen. Green says another bill moving forward will also ban the use of flavored oils, which entice children even more to use e-cigs. “If you put these grape flavors or raspberry or whatever, you’re going to encourage children to treat it like candy, which it’s not,” he said. “Nicotine is an addictive substance and it has negative physiologic effects on a developing child.”

Sen. Green says e-cigs do have benefits for adults trying to quit smoking regular cigarettes, but are a health hazard for anyone under 18 years old. “It’s not good at all for children to be exposed to nicotine, which is basically what happens if they use e-cigs under any circumstance,” he said.

There are only a few states in the country that have passed similar bills, but Sen. Green says he is confident that both bills will pass this legislative session.

Read the full bill here and here.

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