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Editorial: For kids' sake, tax e-cigarettes

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For every report on the dangers of e-cigarettes, you probably can find another that suggests they’re useful to kick a smoking habit. E-cigarettes haven’t been around for long so we’ll have to wait for definitive answers.

But there is no denying e-cigarettes contain nicotine, an addictive chemical that is especially harmful to kids. Some experts say that use of e-cigarettes by adolescents increases the likelihood they will soon use tobacco. We are all too familiar with the sky-high cancer risks associated with tobacco.

Better to err on the side of caution on this one. Let’s keep e-cigarettes out of the mouths and hands of kids. And that’s why Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed tax on e-cigarettes looks like an informed and responsible move.

EDITORIAL

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If the mayor gets his way, electronic cigarette devices and cartridges would be taxed $1.25 each, and each milliliter of nicotine fluid would be taxed 25 cents. The tax would raise about $1 million a year, a drop in the bucket compared to the gaping hole in the city’s finances, but that’s not the point. This tax is about discouraging kids from vaping.

“While we have reached record low rates of youth smoking in Chicago, research has shown that tobacco companies are using e-cigarettes to lure young people into a lifetime of smoking,” Emanuel said Tuesday when he urged the City Council to pass a budget that includes $712 million in tax hikes and fees.

The mayor credited Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) for adding e-cigarettes to a more lucrative tax proposal on chewing tobacco, another tax we wholeheartedly support. Smokeless tobacco is linked to cancers of the mouth, esophagus, stomach and pancreas. It also is popular with professional athletes and the amateurs who look up to them.

E-cigarettes do not burn tobacco, but in addition to nicotine they contain other chemicals and flavoring that can taste like candy, which makes them even more alluring to kids.

The CDC says exposure to nicotine is dangerous for brain development in adolescents.

In April the CDC announced that e-cigarette use had tripled from 2013 to 2014, with 2 million high school students and 450,000 middle school students using them last year. E-cigarettes and hookah pipes were more popular than cigarettes and increased by 400,000 the number of adolescents using tobacco or nicotine products — the first increase in a generation, CDC Director Tom Frieden said.

A survey by the University of Southern California showed that 14-year-olds who vaped were more likely to use smoke tobacco products. Another study conducted in Britain suggested we’re overreacting about e-cigarettes. It found they are about 95 percent less harmful than tobacco products. Neither study was considered definitive. We still have a lot to learn.

But nicotine is rotten for kids. We know that. That’s enough for us.

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