E-cigarette use is on the rise and becoming as big of a health risk as traditional cigarette smoking, according to an article in The New York Times on April 16, “Use of e-cigarettes rises sharply among teenagers, report says.”

The Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, representing more than 200 pediatricians in the state, strongly supports proposed legislation to regulate the use of e-cigarettes and increase of awareness about their use, given the very clear dangers to children (and society) that are well established with respect to nicotine exposure. We know that children exposed to nicotine vapors when they are young are more likely to become addicted themselves.

The Legislature is considering two bills that address e-cigarette use, also known as “vaping.”

The first is L.D. 423, An Act to Require Child-resistant Packaging for Products Containing Liquid Nicotine. In December, a New York toddler ingested liquid nicotine and died. The tragedy resulted in an increased awareness about the many dangers associated with e-cigarette use packaging and ease of access by young children.

The second is L.D. 1108, An Act to Protect Children and the Public from Electronic Cigarette Vapor, which recognizes that the battery-powered vaporizer turns a liquid containing nicotine into a vapor, resulting in an effect to the user similar to smoking a cigarette. As a form of nicotine, e-cigarettes, therefore, should be considered a form of smoking and subject to existing regulations.

“Exposure to airborne nicotine has been well established as a culprit in pediatric asthma, otitis media (ear infections) and respiratory as well as gastrointestinal ailments in children, in addition to increasing the risk of cancer, even in the very young,” according to Steve Feder, a pediatrician with Lincoln Medical Partners/Miles Memorial Hospital.

Research by David Peyton, a chemistry professor at Portland State University, found that a form of formaldehyde — a known carcinogen — was detected in exhaled vapor at significantly higher levels than even regular cigarettes. Peyton’s research was included in the New England Journal of Medicine,

“When someone introduces a toxin like nicotine into otherwise healthy air by using e-cigarettes, they have the burden to show that it does not cause harm,” said Edward Miller, the senior vice president for policy at the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “When people smoke e-cigarettes in public, we are no longer talking about one or two people vaping in a closed bar, but rather dozens vaping with no regard to who is around them. This results in a lot of exposure with very little data on safety. It may be less toxic than tobacco smoke, but carbon monoxide is less toxic than cyanide. That doesn’t mean it is OK to breathe.”

To learn more about the elimination of tobacco and secondhand smoke from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, visit the Academy of Pediatrics website’s educational page, www2.aap.org/richmondcenter/ENDS.html.

Dee Kerry deHaas is executive director of the Maine Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics.

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