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Lawmakers Poised to Ban E-Cig Sales to Kids

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Alicia Mandigo
The Florida Channel
Esmoker Online store manager Dave Allen demonstrates an e-cigarette with a lanyard accessory.

A bill that would ban sales to minors recently passed the Florida Senate unanimously, and a similar bill is pending in the House. 

What started out as an online, underground fad is now a billion dollar business. Electronic cigarettes,  often called e-cigarettes, really aren't cigarettes at all because there's no tobacco, no flame and no smoke. But there are still a lot of questions about where they can be used and whether they pose a health risk.

Esmoker Online store manager Dave Allen says e-cigarettes are becoming so popular that his business, which began as an internet site being run out of a bedroom, now has two brick and mortar stores with plans to open a third.
E-cigarettes are designed to look like cigarettes, but they’re electronic. When inhaled, they convert a nicotine laced liquid into a vapor that when exhaled looks like smoke. It’s called vaping. The liquids come in dozens of flavors like watermelon, bubblegum and caramel.  The devices themselves come in all kinds of fashionable and customizable styles. You can choose from neon pinks and greens, goth designs, bling designs or even a wood-toned executive look.  Allen says all those choices bring customers in the door.
“Or you get a lot of people coming in to just ask about how to get started in this whole thing and how it can help them quit smoking,” he said.

Cheryl, a customer who declined to give her last name,  said that’s what brought her in. A smoker of 40-years, she says nothing she’s tried has brought her even close to quitting.

“Chantix, hypnotism, acupressure…. Let’s think, yeah, been there done that,” she said. “I just haven’t been really able to engage.  The difference between smoke and steam, or vapor, you wouldn’t think it was that extreme, but it is. It’s different.”

That’s one of several big questions surrounding e-cigarettes -- can they help people quit smoking?  A study from the University of Auckland in New Zealand shows that e-cigarettes can be as effective as nicotine patches. However, Janell Middents, spokesperson for the Orlando chapter of the American Lung Association, said the ALA doesn’t support that strategy, in part because e-cigs are completely unregulated.

“The American Lung Association has really serious concerns about the potential health effects of e-cigarettes, we really feel that we need to have a lot more research,” Middents said.

Esmoker Online’s Allen said he’d like to see some product regulation because some of what’s being sold is nothing short of bootleg.

“I would like to see that regulated, more sealed bottles and some kind of standard, like a health standard, when it comes to producing the liquid, ” he said.

Likewise, there are no clear rules about where e-cigs can be used. Public opinion isn’t clear either. Leesburg resident Earnest Jones doesn’t like the idea of vaping in public.

“I just think, psychologically for me, as a bystander, it’s unsightly, it’s not what I would want to be around, it gives me questions, it makes me pause,” Jones said.

According to the Florida Department of Health, e-cigarettes are not regulated by the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act. That’s pretty much what Dave Allen tells his e-cigarette customers.

“Legally, in the state of Florida, I tell people the truth, that they can smoke these anywhere,” he said.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarette use among middle and high school students doubled between 2011 and 2012. Sherry Langston from Winter Park says her son switched from smoking to vaping with the hope that e-cigarettes would help him quit nicotine altogether. He hasn’t quit and she’s now ambivalent about e-cigarettes.

“I do now know that big tobacco is selling them as well, so that can never be good,” Langston said.

Phillip Morris, RJ Reynolds and Lorillard have all jumped in to the e-cigarette market. The Food and Drug Administration is considering regulations and FDA researchers are looking into whether common ingredients in e-cigarettes are harmful.