Does North Dakota Really Need To Ban E-Cigarettes For Minors?


Vaping, or the use as e-cigarettes (as they’re known to the chagrin of proponents who note they’re nothing like actual cigarettes), has burst into fashionable use in North Dakota and across the nation. This has happened so quickly that the law really hasn’t kept up with the trend.

North Dakotans voted for a statewide ban on using e-cigarettes in public spaces in 2012 (though I’m not convinced that voters knew that e-cigarettes were included in the ban they voted for), but the state is just one of ten left in the nation where minors can purchase the product.

Many retailers and e-cigarette businesses have instituted a voluntary ban on sales to minors, but the anti-tobacco crusaders want it to be law. So they’ve recruited a bunch of middle schoolers (because who can say no to a law endorsed by children?) to propose a bill to the Legislature:

The Simle Middle School SADD chapter in Bismarck, with the help of Representative Diane Larson, got a bill drafted that would restrict the sale of e-cigarettes to minors across the state of North Dakota.

American Lung Association Program Manager Kristie Wolff says e-cigarette use among the youth has tripled since 2011.

Currently, 40 states prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. North Dakota is not one of them.

This reminds me of Rob Port’s Law which I proposed back in 2013 to require that “any law named after a child immediately requires a super majority of legislative votes to pass.” I would amend that proposal to include any laws endorsed by middle schoolers.

But I digress.

The ban on sales of tobacco to minors has wide public support, so you would think that banning e-cigarette sales to minors would be a no-brainer, except that e-cigarettes are not tobacco. In fact, e-cigarettes have actually caused tobacco use among children to decline. Tobacco use among kids was already on the way down, but of the small minority that do smoke, e-cigarettes are taking the lead over tobacco.

Electronic cigarettes have surpassed traditional smoking in popularity among teens, the government’s annual drug use survey finds.

Even as tobacco smoking by teens dropped to new lows, use of e-cigarettes reached levels that surprised researchers. The findings marked the survey’s first attempt to measure the use of e-cigarettes by people that young.

Nearly 9 percent of eighth-graders said they’d used an e-cigarette in the previous month, while just 4 percent reported smoking a traditional cigarette, said the report being released Tuesday by the National Institutes of Health.

To be clear, e-cigarettes wouldn’t be a habit I’d encourage my kids to take up, but given that smoking is going to happen among some kids no matter what we do is it so bad that they have a legal alternative to tobacco that’s much healthier for them?

This is where the impulse to lump vaping in with smoking becomes problematic. They are not the same thing. Treating them like the same thing may satisfy the whims of anti-tobacco zealots, but it makes for poor public policy.

If there’s an alternative which allows those who choose to smoke to move away from tobacco to something healthier, why would those who claim to be acting in the interest of public health oppose it?