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OpinionEditorial

Don't politicize the regulation of electronic cigarettes

A man exhales vapor as he demonstrates the

A man exhales vapor as he demonstrates the use of his electronic cigarette in Salt Lake City on Aug. 14, 2014. Credit: AP/Rick Bowmer

President Donald Trump has a troubling habit of retreating from bold positions when the going gets tough. Take his post-mass-shooting support for background checks that evaporated after the National Rifle Association and its supporters mobilized.

Now it's electronic cigarettes. Trump reportedly has been reached by industry lobbyists and shown some polling data that may be dissuading him from taking up the controversial issue going into an election year.

That's a bad shift. Trump had publicly supported more regulation in recent months as safety concerns emerged across the country. That included his encouraging talk of banning most flavored e-cigs back in September. But now we’re into the holiday season without action. Trump’s deputy press secretary, Judd Deere, says the administration is “in an ongoing rule-making process,” while various places including New York have tried to move faster.

The possibility that Trump is making a political calculation here would be unacceptable. There’s a lot the public still doesn’t know about the impact of vaping, and the second death from a vaping-related illness in New York announced last month suggests that caution is warranted.

Smart policy-making is key. The devices seem to help some people quit smoking, though we won't know the full health effects for years. E-cigarette makers claim exposure to heated liquid chemicals and nicotine is safe, and it is important to note that many of the most serious incidents seen with e-cigarettes this year involved tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, as opposed to legal over-the-counter products.

But vaping also has gained traction among young nonsmokers, millions of whom are getting used to nicotine through the popular devices. This is troubling. Hence the attempts by lawmakers from the Nassau County Legislature to the New York City Council to ban most flavored e-cigs. Emergency action by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to ban flavored e-cigs has been stayed pending litigation. 

There are reasonable questions to consider about prohibiting certain flavors, including whether wholesale bans drive some people to underground markets. But it's hard to ignore the impact of the more child-friendly strains and the shameless marketing designed to draw in young people. New York this year raised the purchase age for e-cigs and tobacco to 21, a smart move. 

A focus on research and science is best to craft a policy that keeps the devices out of the hands of kids and prevents the loss of hard-earned gains against cigarette addiction.

The overuse of tobacco products is a scourge that destroyed the lives of millions, bolstered by a rapacious industry bent on safeguarding its livelihood, muddying the political sphere at the cost of generations of smokers.

Keep the politics out of it, and focus on good policy. — The editorial board

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