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MINNEAPOLIS -- The National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO) is raising concerns about a new study that shows an increased use of electronic cigarettes by minors. Released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the study is based on a questionnaire filled out by nearly 19,000 students in grades six through 12 in 2011 and another 25,000 in 2012.
In 2011, about 3 percent of the respondents said they'd tried an electronic cigarette at least once. According to the study, that figure increased to 7 percent last year and translates to nearly 1.8 million students, The Associated Press reported.
According to Thomas A. Briant, executive director and legal counsel for NATO, the CDC study raises too many unanswered questions for the data to be used as a basis for proposing significant restrictions on electronic cigarettes.
"It appears the CDC and [the Food and Drug Administration] are extrapolating data from the 2011 and 2012 National Youth Tobacco Surveys (NYTS) to support the FDA's announced plan to expand its authority over other tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, by issuing proposed regulations this October," Briant said.
"Studies have found e-cigarettes to be effective in reducing cigarette smoking or aiding smokers in quitting," he added. "Given that e-cigarettes appear to have a positive effect in the reduction of smoking tobacco-burning cigarettes, NATO can only conclude that the FDA is setting the stage for the rollout of the agency’s proposed e-cigarette regulations in two months."
Briant stressed that NATO and its retailer members, which operate more than 28,000 tobacco stores, convenience stores, service stations, grocery stores and liquor stores across the United States, "firmly agree that underage youth should not use e-cigarettes."
Twenty-six states currently have laws on the books to prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, and retailers are following those laws and their own business practices to prevent the sale of -cigarettes to minors, he explained.
"The CDC’s claim that electronic cigarette use has more than doubled among middle and high school students from 2011 to 2012 is a generalization and may not be supported by the NYTS data," Briant said. "The NYTS statistics relied on by the CDC to estimate how many youth use electronic cigarettes include middle and high school students who currently use e-cigarettes and those who have used an e-cigarette just once. This means that the CDC’s claim that electronic cigarette use has doubled among underage youth is likely overstated since students who used the product one time may no longer be using e-cigarettes."
According to Briant, NATO has only read a summary of the 2012 NYTS study provided by the CDC and referenced in its press release.
The summary leaves some questions unanswered, he said, such as how many students actually completed the survey in order to extrapolate the CDC’s estimate that 1.78 million students have tried electronic cigarettes.
"NATO does not support the sale of e-cigs to underage consumers. However, NATO members firmly stand behind the right of adults to purchase e-cigarettes, particularly when they are looking for assistance in 'stepping down' from smoking traditional cigarettes," Briant said. "We hope any future regulations proposed by the FDA will not interfere with the right of adults to choose what, at least at this time, appears to be a less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes."