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Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy January 22, 2014 10:31 AM
I'm really proud of Massachusetts' Senator Ed Markey for calling out NBC--and some irresponsible celebrities--for sending a bad message to our kids.
At the Golden Globes, there were some celebrities (including Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Leonardo DiCaprio) puffing away on electronic cigarettes ("e-cigarettes"), and it was caught (featured) on camera. As Senator Markey and four of his colleagues pointed out in the letter they sent to NBC Universal, it was like having a celebrity endorsement of e-cigarettes.
Youth are impressionable. We already know that exposure to tobacco use in the media makes kids more likely to start smoking. Having footage of celebrities using e-cigarettes makes it more likely that kids will start doing the same.
Now, e-cigarettes may not be a bad idea for some people--specifically adults who are trying to quit, or adults who simply can't quit. For both, e-cigarettes could be a way of lessening their overall health risk. But they are a really bad idea for youth.
There is a real danger that e-cigarettes could be where some youth begin their relationship with tobacco, instead of where they end it. Besides the fact that we really don't know the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes (which obviously is crucial when you are dealing with people who have the rest of their lives ahead of them), the worry is that if they get hooked on nicotine or just on the idea of smoking, they will move to tobacco--and the myriad of health risks tobacco brings.
That's why we need to speak up, like Senator Markey did. Even more, we need to take real action to protect our youth from e-cigarettes. At the Massachusetts State House, Representative Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Jamaica Plain) has proposed legislation HB3726 that would do just that. It would:
- Create a comprehensive definition of tobacco products. It's not just e-cigs--there are all sorts of "emerging tobacco products" that sometimes sneak under the legal radar.
- Restrict sales to minors. Seems like a "duh" thing to do, but until you make the law, anybody can go buy the stuff.
- Restrict manufacturers from distributing samples of tobacco products. E-cigarettes come in flavors like chocolate and bubble gum. Handing them out could be like handing out candy...and a bad habit is begun.
- Prohibit the use of smoking and electronic cigarettes in places where the smoke-free workplace law applies. Let's get rid of the loopholes. And truly, we don't know that the vapor from e-cigarettes is safe, even if it isn't the same as regular cigarette smoke. For all we know, it's got its own set of toxins.
The legislation is currently in the Joint Committee on Public Health and needs your help to advance. Call Senator John Keenan (D-Quincy-617-722-1494) and Representative Sanchez (617-722-2130) and let them know you support it. You can also send an email to the State House by visiting the Children's Advocacy Network site of Boston Children's Hospital.
Let's send a clear message that there's no such thing as safe tobacco or safe cigarettes.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
About MD MamaClaire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »
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