More than 16 million children age 17 and under live in the District of Columbia and 10 states that allow them to buy e-cigarettes legally, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Public health officials have warned about the dangers of e-cigarettes for youths. CDC officials have said that calls to poison centers involving e-cigarettes have surged in recent years. Last year, the CDC reported a dramatic increase in the number of high school students who said they had tried e-cigarettes, including some who had never smoked.
The latest data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey showed 4.5 percent of all high school students and 1.1 percent of all middle school students had used e-cigarettes within the past 30 days in 2013.
"We know e-cigarettes are not safe for youth," said Tim McAfee, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health.
The CDC data is based on information obtained from its tobacco tracking system as of Nov. 30, 2014.
The Food and Drug Administration announced in April that it intended for the first time to regulate the booming market of electronic cigarettes, as well as an array of other products such as cigars, pipe tobacco and hookahs. The move would begin to place restrictions on e-cigarettes, a nearly $2 billion industry that for years has operated outside the reach of federal regulators. If adopted, the government’s plan would force manufacturers to curb sales to minors, stop handing out free samples, place health warning labels on their products and disclose the ingredients. Makers of e-cigarettes also would be banned from making health-related claims without scientific evidence.
The FDA’s proposal stops short of broader restrictions sought by many tobacco-control advocates. Regulators at this point are not seeking to halt online sales of e-cigarettes, curb television advertising, or ban the use of flavorings such as watermelon, grape soda and piña colada — all tactics that critics say are aimed at attracting young smokers and that have been banned for traditional cigarettes.
The FDA proposed rule must undergo several steps before becoming final. The CDC report Thursday noted that the regulation does not address the use of e-cigarettes in public places. The report also said federal law allows states and localities to adopt or enforce more stringent requirements.
E-cigarettes vary from brand to brand, but they generally resemble the size and shape of traditional cigarettes. Instead of burning tobacco, the battery-powered devices heat up flavored, nicotine-laced liquid, turning it into a vapor that the user inhales, or “vapes.” Supporters say that makes e-cigarettes an attractive alternative to their cancer-causing tobacco counterparts.