It appears New York State and Onondaga County have been a few steps ahead of federal law after news Thursday that the Food and Drug Administration was extending its oversight to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Turns out local laws restricting youth access have been in place for years.
The FDA’s concern lies with the sharp increase in e-cigarette use among high school students from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent last year. The numbers in New York are a bit lower at just under 11 percent. lead coordinator with reality check in Madison, Oneida, and Herkimer counties Heather Burnet says it’s telling that only half as many adults are using e-cigarettes.
"Sometimes we hear, in terms of e-cigarettes, that, 'oh, these products are helping people quit'," Burnet said. "They can't make those claims anyway. It would be illegal for them to say that. But then we're looking at the statistics, and there's more youth and young adults using those electronic nicotine delivery systems than there are adults."
The new federal oversight means e-cigarettes can no longer be sold to those under 18. But New York State’s ban took effect in early 2013, and in Onondaga County, the minimum age is 19. County director of Environmental Health Lisa Letteny says there’s no shortage of e-cigarette advertising, which can be misleading.
"I think sometimes they try to advertise them [e-cigarettes] as safer than cigarettes,"Letteny said. "But with all the state and federal agencies including them in their laws, that's not necessarily true."
There’s still limited conclusive data about the health risks of e-cigarette use beyond the addictive qualities of nicotine; or, if "vaping" can lead to traditional tobacco smoking. That’s why Heather Burnet with Reality Check says they’re sticking with what they know…for now.
"Our efforts have remained on cigarette products prominently, because we know we have years upon years of research and data that they are dangerous. With e-cigarettes, we don't have that."
The FDA’s rule change takes effect in 90 days.