The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday August 13th

E-cigarettes easily obtained by minors

Marc Sylvestre was not happy.

The UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center had just released a study that found that minors attempting to buy electronic cigarettes through the Internet were successful 93.7 percent of the time.

According to the report, none of the vendors complied with North Carolina’s e-cigarette age-verification law.

Sylvestre, co-owner of the Vapor Girl in Chapel Hill, saw it as a personal affront. 

“I feel like the author of the study was out there to make us feel bad,” he said.

Sylvestre said he strongly believes in the power of e-cigarettes to help people quit traditional cigarettes. He said his wife, Victoria, was trying to quit smoking, so she used e-cigarettes, and it happened overnight.

In fact, he said their motivation for opening the Vapor Girl — his wife is the co-owner — stemmed from the lack of e-cigarette products aimed at women.

“Our core mission, aside from wanting to make a profit and creating jobs, is saving lives," he said. "That’s why I feel really bad when people put out studies like this.”

Sylvestre said his frustration stems from what he sees as the implication that e-cigarette vendors are trying to get minors hooked.

"I would never do that — I have kids myself," he said.

When North Carolina passed its original legislation regulating e-cigarettes in 2013, it was one of the first states to do so. The legislation put e-cigarettes in the same category as traditional cigarettes, applying an age limit not only to tobacco products but to all nicotine products, but did not include any regulations for e-cigarette advertisements.

N.C. Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, said the legislation was passed partially at the behest of R.J. Reynolds, the tobacco monolith.

“Most states have not taxed e-cigarettes yet,” Meyer said. “North Carolina went ahead and added a small tax last year. We did so at the request of R.J. Reynolds. They wanted to ask for a tax that was favorable to their product before we decided to tax them."

Meyer said he believes R.J. Reynolds pushed the new regulation through the legislature quickly to prevent advertising regulations for e-cigarettes and ensure a low e-cigarette tax.

"They want lower taxes and less regulations on e-cigarettes as they do on regular cigarettes,” he said.

Both Meyer and Rebecca Williams, the author of the Lineberger study, said fewer regulations would be desirable for R.J. Reynolds to be able to advertise e-cigarettes to minors.

"The tobacco industry has been promoting their products to minors for many years," Williams said. "They are aware that 90 percent of adult smokers begin before they are 18; as the smokers die, they need to continue enrolling new smokers. As to whether it's regular cigarettes or e-cigarettes, they do not care."

Regulations on advertising tobacco — both in general and specifically toward minors — have made addicting young smokers more difficult in recent decades.

“In general, e-cigarettes are highly addictive, and they’re being used to addict a whole new generation to nicotine,” Williams said.

Additionally, the availability of e-cigarettes through online vendors has made enforcement difficult, as demonstrated by the Lineberger study.

Lt. Josh Mecimore of the Chapel Hill Police Department said the department does not differentiate between electronic cigarettes and regular cigarettes when responding to calls and collecting data, though e-cigarettes are available online unlike other tobacco products and have fewer advertising regulations than traditional cigarettes.

Meyer said corporations like R.J. Reynolds are pushing to keep it that way.

“They are doing whatever they can to make sure we don’t put additional regulations on them that limit their ability to market to young people,” he said.

Williams said the safety and health profiles of e-cigarettes are not yet established.

"There are more teens now using e-cigarettes as opposed to regular cigarettes," she said. "That is a serious health concern."

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