Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: E-cigarettes bring threat of new addiction for kids

The other day I drove by a young man wildly waving a large red sign on a grassy median, the kind of mobile advertising one sees during tax season.

Only the happy-go-lucky hipster wasn’t egging on people to meet the deadline on taxes, but peddling the prospect of addiction, illness, and death.

He was directing attention to the sale of e-cigarettes at a gas station convenience store – only steps away from a middle school.

For the uninitiated, electronic cigarettes are the tobacco industry’s latest bad-for-you product.

With a trendy name and cigarette-likeness, the battery-operated device that turns liquid nicotine into an odorless, smoke-like vapor has all the trappings of a sales hit among teenagers. So it’s not surprising that e-cigarette use has more than doubled among middle and high school students in the span of one year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

What adults do with their bodies might be their business, but what they push on our children is ours.

You might not be able to smell the tobacco-less e-cigarettes, but they contain nicotine and have the potential to be harmful. By the time a study comes along to confirm that this, too, kills, and the lawsuits follow, the tobacco industry has already made oodles of money on the addicted.

Death may be as inevitable as taxes, but who wants to hurry it along? Who wants an impressionable child hooked for life?

Cities and county governments around the state recognized the dangers of e-cigarettes and places like Miami, Weston and Sunrise passed ordinances banning their sale to minors. Miami-Dade County passed an ordinance banning smoking them in government buildings – and a resolution supporting a state initiative to ban sales to minors.

But since the county passed that resolution, an amendment has been added to the bill working its way through the Florida Legislature that’s nothing short of a betrayal of the local governments that acted quickly to protect the youth in their turf.

“We’re not trying to ban them, just trying to keep kids from being exposed and saying they should go behind the shelves,” Commissioner Barbara Jordan told me Tuesday. “It’s putting the electorate first.”

But as the legislature has done with gun laws to please the powerful NRA lobby, the amendment seeks to ban local governments from passing tobacco and e-cigarette laws, in deference to the tobacco lobby – a major contributor to political campaigns.

Bill sponsor Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, calls the amendment a “compromise” and says he hasn’t been swayed by the tobacco lobby – but it sure looks like it.

The move has put anti-smoking groups in the awkward position of working to kill what was originally an anti-smoking bill.

Perhaps Artiles and his colleagues need a little reminder of how constituents feel. A Miami Herald online poll taken in February when the City of Miami voted on the issue shows overwhelming support – 87 percent – for banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

As for the young man peddling e-cigarettes and getting thumbs down from drivers, he worked the gig on and off for a few days – and then, he was gone.

Good riddance.

The last thing our vulnerable children need is another addiction to pull them down.

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