Tobacco ads have been banned from TV for about 50 years. But not e-cigarette products, which can still be marketed as a “safe tobacco alternative.”

The surge in cases of vaping-related lung illness demands that the ban should be extended to e-cigarettes. California and the nation should also follow the lead of Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Francisco and San Mateo counties and ban flavored e-cigarettes and consider outlawing vaping altogether.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last Friday it is investigating 450 cases of vaping-related lung illnesses in 33 states, including at least three deaths. The doctor who is leading the CDC’s investigation, Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman, told the New York Times, “While this investigation is ongoing, people should consider not using e-cigarette products.”

No kidding.

Federal officials remain perplexed by what is causing the illnesses, although Meaney-Delman said the CDC believes that a chemical of some kind is involved. E-cigarettes emit as many as 10 toxins.

Doctors are dismayed that the median age of patients afflicted with vaping-related lung diseases in Illinois and Wisconsin is 19. The Illinois Department of Public Health noted that a majority of those cases involve users who had vaped a product containing THC, the primary ingredient of marijuana.

E-cigarette firms continue to claim that they do not market their products to minors. We would be more inclined to believe them if some didn’t continue to offer fruity and sweet-flavored products in stores. The bottom line is young children and teenagers are picking up the habit in increasing numbers.

The Surgeon General reports that across the nation, 1 in every 5 high school students and 1 in every 20 middle-school students use e-cigarettes. The California Public Health Department notes that 84 percent of high school students using tobacco do so by smoking flavored tobacco products.

A recent study of Santa Clara County teens found that nearly 1 in 3 say that they have used an e-cigarette at least once. It’s especially notable that more than 2 in 5 teens reported purchasing their own e-cigarettes, with over a quarter of this group saying they buy them directly from a local store.

The survey said that among those who purchased e-cigarettes in a local store, 62.5 percent purchased them at a vape shop. That’s illegal in California. The state prohibited the sale of e-cigarettes to minors in 2010.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, introduced a bill in the Legislature earlier this year that would have outlawed the sale of flavored tobacco products in California stores and vending machines. But intense lobbying by the tobacco industry forced Hill to withdraw his bill rather than accept amendments that would have made the legislation ineffective.

More than 20 countries already ban vaping. Australia, Japan and India all have some form of restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes. The recent outbreak of lung diseases related to vaping demands that state and federal officials restrict advertising of e-cigarette products and consider a total ban of their sale.

THE MERCURY NEWS/SAN JOSE, CALIF. (TNS)

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