Growing up is hard enough without dragging into adulthood a smoking habit. Sales of tobacco products to youth younger than age 18 is a crime in Oregon, but there are many other ways for kids to get their hands on products that threaten their health.

In recent years, another tobacco-related product, electronic cigarettes, hit stores across the state. The devices work like this: Instead of smoke burning from tobacco, users inhale vapor consisting of nicotine, flavor additives and other chemicals through a battery-powered device.

Some manufacturers market e-cigarettes as a safe alternative to conventional tobacco products. They are not. Some companies have also targeted teens by giving the flavor additives names like bubblegum, chocolate and cookies. That’s reprehensible.

Fortunately, some Oregon store owners who sell e-cigarettes say they won’t sell their wares to minors, even though current laws says they can. We herald their commitment to the health of our youth.

But other shops, particularly those in major metropolitan centers, have been more concerned with profit than the health of our youth. They have been exploiting the loophole in the law that forbids selling tobacco products to youths by selling them e-cigarettes instead.

That has got to stop and we call on the Legislature, slated to begin session next week, to add Oregon to the list of 28 states that have so far passed legislation banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

Fortunately, one legislator is ahead of the game. State Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, says he will propose a bill for the session banning electronic cigarette sales to minors. He predicts it could pass during the one-month session.

Rep. Carolyn Tomei, D-Milwaukie, is the leading anti-tobacco crusader in the Oregon Legislature. She says getting any smoking-related bills passed in Salem would require support from anti-tobacco advocates such as the Oregon cancer, lung and heart associations, and they’re not ready to pursue state legislation right now. However, there’s an exception for bills limiting e-cig sales to those 18 or older. That’s because tobacco companies like the idea, and even promote it in other states.

Twenty-eight states — 13 of them last year — have enacted legislation so far limiting e-cig sales to those 18 and older.

Tobacco companies like to support bans on selling to minors, Tomei said, in hopes of fending off more rigorous regulations.

Tomei said she supports Olson’s effort.

“I think it’s a great first step, but it’s just a first step,” said Tomei.

E-cigs are not taxed at all in Oregon, unlike other tobacco products. And e-cigs do not fall under Oregon’s Indoor Clean Air Act.

Other quarters are taking action against e-cigarettes. In 2012, Gov. John Kitzhaber signed an executive order banning the use of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, in state buildings. Further, the Oregon Public Health Division recently recommended businesses and local jurisdictions prohibit the use of e-cigarettes. In 2009, the state banned the sale of two particular brands of e-cigarettes after it was discovered the companies were misrepresenting the safety or nature of their products without providing scientific evidence to back up their claims.

A 2013 Oregon Teens Health Survey determined that 5.2 percent of 11th-grade students and 1.8 percent of eighth-graders had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. Across the country, the number of middle and high school students that used e-cigarettes doubled from 2011 to 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In September, the House Judiciary Committee held a meeting on e-cigarette regulation. The committee’s chairman, Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, said he is confident hearings will be held on Olson’s proposed legislation.

We’ll be holding them to that. This issue is too important to be lost in committee. The very health of our young people is at stake.

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