NC law takes effect banning e-cigarettes to minors
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — At North Carolina smoke shops and other retailers, the warning signs are going up: A law banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors takes effect Thursday.
Retailers will face the same misdemeanor charge if they sell e-cigarettes to a minor as they now do for other tobacco products. Penalties can be as high as a $1,000 fine, community service or jail time.
So retailers say they'll be on the lookout.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating vapor that users inhale. Some e-cigarettes are made to look like a real cigarette with a tiny light on the tip that glows.
Some e-cigarettes are disposable, while more expensive ones can be recharged.
Devotees tout them as a way to break addiction to real cigarettes. They insist the devices address both the nicotine addiction and the behavioral aspects of smoking without the more than 4,000 chemicals found in cigarettes.
But public health officials say the safety of e-cigarettes and their effectiveness in helping people quit regular cigarettes haven't been fully studied.
North Carolina is among a dozen states that have laws keeping e-cigarettes out of juvenile's hands. South Carolina passed a similar measure last month. Previously, anyone could buy them because they weren't classified as tobacco products.
Agents with N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement help enforce the law banning the sale of tobacco products to minors. The agency is part of the state Public Safety Department.
Investigators last year conducted 1,329 compliance checks across the state and found 164 illegal sales, said Mark Senter, the department's deputy director for law enforcement services.
But right now there are no plans to target retailers to make sure they're complying with the law, he said.
His agency offers programs to educate clerks at retail outlets on how to check forms of identification and prevent sales of tobacco products to minors.
Agents also distribute signs and brochures related to the state law and the responsibilities of retail merchants.
The market for e-cigarettes has grown from the thousands of users in 2006 to several million worldwide. Analysts estimate that sales could double this year to $1 billion. Some go as far as saying that consumption of e-cigarettes could surpass consumption of traditional ones in the next decade.