Cook County commissioner seeks to outlaw electronic cigarettes

On Feb. 19, Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, D-16th of McCook, plans to introduce an ordinance amendment that would make it illegal to sell electronic cigarettes to minors.

The amendment would also require that electronic cigarettes be sold from behind the counter like tobacco products.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices in the shape of a cigarette. They deliver a nicotine vapor to users. Tobolski is concerned that electronic cigarettes would turn on minors to smoking.

“E-cigarettes are continually being sold with new flavors and what was once intended to be a smoking cessation device is now a way for kids to pick up the nicotine habit,” said Tobolski, whose district includes portions of Franklin Park, Countryside, Western Springs, La Grange, LaGrange Park, Northlake, Forest Park and Westchester.

Professor Tobin Mermelstein, director of the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois in Chicago, said a ban on selling electronic cigarettes to minors is a fine idea.

“Just as we have laws to ban the sales and promotion and marketing of tobacco to minors, those should be extended to electronic cigarettes,” Mermelstein said.

Mermelstein said that electronic cigarettes could potentially be a gateway device for minors to tobacco use.

“Many electronic cigarettes are marketed by tobacco companies,” Mermelstein said. “(Minors) may get marketing and images that promote the dual use of electronic cigarettes and cigarettes. Preliminary research indicates that minors who try electronic cigarettes are likely to try regular cigarettes.”

Then there is the variety of flavors available for electronic cigarettes. Those include cherry, menthol, coffee, Pina Colada, vanilla, cherry, peach and others.

“Many are quite appealing to minors and make the uptake easier,” Marmelstein said.

While electronic cigarettes may be less harmful than tobacco, that does not mean they are safe.

“You don’t have some of the carcinogens from smoking and burning of combustible materials,” Marmelstein said. “It’s not really known what quantity of nicotine or other additives there are.”

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