E-Cigarettes Are Within Reach of 16 Million Children

E-cigarettes can be lawfully purchased by minors in ten states and the District of Columbia, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Although 40 states have enacted laws to prevent the sale of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), the products are still readily available to more than 16 million children ages 17 and under.  


In the words of Tim McAfee, M.D., M.P.H., Director of CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, “e-cigarettes are not safe for youth.” The danger stems from the fact that the aerosol byproduct of the ENDS is, contrary to widespread belief, not harmless water vapor. According to a CDC press release, Brian King, Ph.D., senior scientific advisor in CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, said that the aerosol contains nicotine and toxins. Additionally, King said “exposure to nicotine can harm adolescent brain development and can be toxic to fetuses. The standard for protecting the health of children and bystanders should be clean air, free of toxic secondhand smoke as well as ENDS aerosol.” A CDC infographic corroborates King’s position. While ENDS are regularly promoted as aids to help smokers quit smoking, the CDC says that there is no credible scientific support for that claim.  The CDC reminds smokers that there are FDA approved methods to help smokers quit and ENDS are not one of them.


The issue presented by ENDS and their use is broader than child access. According to the CDC, there is a problematic disparity between smoke-free laws and ENDS prohibitions. For example, in 26 states and the District of Columbia, smoking is prohibited in restaurants, worksites, and bars; however, only three states, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Utah have prohibited the use of ENDS indoors. The result, according to the CDC, is that 300 million Americans, including 70 million children, stand to be involuntarily exposed to either second-hand smoke from smoked tobacco products or ENDS aerosol.   

Minor Laws

Laws restricting the sale of ENDS to minors have increased in recent years. For example, of the 40 states with minor sale restrictions, 12 of the laws took effect in 2013 and 16 of the laws took effect in 2014. However, there is some concern that the prohibitions of ENDS sales to minors is due in large part to efforts from the tobacco industry. The push from the tobacco industry is potentially problematic, according to the CDC, because the 2012 Surgeon General’s Report found that bills sponsored by the tobacco industry, while effective in restricting ENDS sales, tend to undermine efforts to prevent youth from using tobacco products as an alternative.