State lawmakers mull e-cig rules as new study suggests link to tobacco

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The state legislature will reconsider a bill Wednesday that would regulate e-cigarettes the same as tobacco, one day after a new study was released that shows 14-year-olds who've tried e-cigarettes are four times more likely to try other tobacco products.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Tuesday, finds teenagers who have used e-cigarettes are more likely to at least sample tobacco cigarettes, cigars or hookahs, said co-author Adam Leventhal, associate professor and director of the USC Health, Emotion, & Addiction Laboratory at the Keck School of Medicine.

The researchers surveyed 2,530 ninth graders at 10 Los Angeles high schools over the course of a year. Their study builds upon other research that has also found possible links between e-cigarettes and tobacco; the authors cautioned, however, that they did not determine a causal link between trying e-cigarettes and sampling tobacco ones, and called for more research on that question.

The study also does not differentiate between those who sampled tobacco products and those who went on to use them regularly. Still, Leventhal expressed concern about e-cigarettes' appeal to young people.

"E-cigarettes may be drawing a new generation of teens into recreational nicotine use because they are high-tech, can be purchased somewhat easily, come in enticing flavors and have a perception that they’re not harmful," said Leventhal. "If you enjoy the experience of inhaling nicotine in e-cigarettes, it makes sense that you would be open to trying other nicotine products, like cigarettes, hookah, and cigars."

Teens are more likely to try e-cigarettes if they have friends who smoke them, according to previous studies, which have also noted that e-cigarettes are easier to hide from parents because they don't leave a telltale odor. 

The e-cigarette industry argues that its products are safer than tobacco cigarettes and they help smokers quit.

The e-cigarette regulatory bill, by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), had stalled during the regular session, but lawmakers revived it for consideration during its special session on health issues. Lawmakers returned from their month-long summer recess on Monday.

A number of local governments, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, already regulate e-cigarettes the same as tobacco. The California Department of Public Health has called for the state to take the same step; earlier this year the department declared electronic cigarettes to be a public health threat

Legislators are also taking another look at a bill that would raise the legal age to smoke tobacco from 18 to 21.