Because the dangers of electronic cigarettes are unknown, attorneys general from 40 states have called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to restrict the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.

Electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes (e-cigs) are battery operated chambers that deliver a heated liquid formulation of nicotine from tobacco and other chemicals delivered in a vapor form. The “smoker” can exhale the vapor, replicating the action of smoking.

Courtesy of FergusM1970Currently there are no regulations that prevent nonsmokers from obtaining e-cigarettes, which are advertised as a safe alternative to smoking.

Last July, the FDA solicited comments in advance of expanding rulemaking over the smoking props.

The bipartisan letter asks the FDA to include e-cigs under the Tobacco Control Act which gives the agency the authority to regulate all tobacco products including smokeless tobacco, roll-your-own cigarettes, cigarettes and tobacco products.

The FDA announced it intended to tighten regulation on all tobacco-related products by the end of October including electronic cigarette advertising, ingredients and the sale to minors.

While e-cigs are used to wean smokers from cigarettes by replicating the action of smoking and delivering a lower level of nicotine, their use may actually encourage smoking among young users, the letter says, “Nicotine is highly addictive and, if e-cigarettes are left unregulated, our state’s youth may use them as a gateway to smoking.” Florida is not among the states that have signed onto the letter.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), electronic cigarette use among middle and high school students doubled last year compared to the year before. Even minors who had never smoked found no problem experimenting with e-cigarettes, which the CDC estimates to translate to 1.78 million students.

Celebrity endorsements of e-cigarettes have only encouraged their sales as have fruit and candy flavored e-cigarettes and advertising characters, reminiscent of the Joe Camel campaign by Big Tobacco from years ago.

The concern is the delivery of nicotine in any amount can spark addictive behavior while the chemical effects on the brain and body are unknown. The chemical additives are entirely unknown and may contain carcinogens.

You may recall it was the action of state attorneys general of 50 states that were behind the agreement with Big Tobacco- the four largest companies in the U.S. – that led to the recovery of billions of dollars to cover the cost of smoking-related illness in each state. The agreement also got the companies to stop advertising to minors.

Meanwhile, the CDC reports about 18 percent of U.S. adults smoke tobacco, down from 19 percent last year.