e-cigaretteA recent bill put forth in the U.S. Virgin Islands legislature would make it illegal to sell e-cigarettes and nicotine vaporizers to minors. The bill also bans other alternative tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco and snuff.

Senator Sammuel Sanes sponsored Bill 30-0268, as did co-sponsors Senators Kenneth Gittens and Diane Capehart. On March 21, the U.S. Virgin Islands Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee voted to send the bill, along with a number of other proposed bills for a final vote by the full Legislature. The Legislature voted to adopt the Bill on April 24.

Because e-cigarettes were first introduced into the Chinese market in 2004, their alleged safety has been a topic of heated debate. Many experts had hoped that e-cigarettes would help heavy smokers quit, but it appears that the presumed safety of the products has created a new category of addiction. While proponents claim that e-cigarettes are much safer than tobacco, others believe that the device is simply a high-tech way to encourage new generations to become addicted to nicotine. Research on the topic is still frustratingly minimal, while the industry continues to grow at an exponential rate. In fact, it’s estimated that within 10 years, the sale of electronic cigarettes will outpace tobacco products — something that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

The use of e-cigarettes is becoming increasingly popular among minors. Between 2011 and 2012, the number of adolescents and teens using electronic cigarettes doubled. Although the products produce vapor instead of smoke containing carbon monoxide and tar, their cartridges do still contain addictive nicotine. This means that ceasing to use e-cigarettes can produce the same withdrawal symptoms that quitting smoking produces, including irritability, depression, anxiety and restlessness. In addition, nicotine can be very dangerous for those with heart problems, and it may damage arteries over time.

Considering that the most damaging part of regular cigarettes is the smoke they produce, the limited amount of research available so far does suggest that e-cigarettes might be safer. Laboratory tests have shown that the amount of dangerous chemicals produced by e-cigarettes is only a fraction of those that come from regular cigarettes. However, because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not yet regulate e-cigarettes, their cartridge contents may vary considerably. And while some experts seem confident that electronic cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes, there is still a severe lack of evidence to show whether or not their long-term effects will prove to be harmful to youth and adults alike.

BoltNagi is a widely respected and well-established government relations law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.