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California declares electronic cigarettes a health threat

This September 25, 2013 photo illustration taken in Washington, DC, shows a woman smoking an 'Blu' e-cigarette. In Los Angeles Wednesday, the city council voted unanimously to regulate them much the same way as tobacco products. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

California health officials say electronic cigarettes are a health threat, especially to children, and should be strictly regulated like tobacco products.

A report released Wednesday by the California Department of Public Health says e-cigarettes emit cancer-causing chemicals and get users hooked on nicotine. California Health Officer Ron Chapman says new generations of young people will become nicotine addicts if the products remain largely unregulated.

"There are myths and misinformations around e-cigarettes, many people do not know that they pose many of the same health risks as traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products," Chapman said.

E-cigarettes heat liquid nicotine from cartridges into inhalable vapor without tar and other chemicals found in traditional cigarettes.  Chapman said e-cigarettes emit an aerosol that contains at least ten chemicals that are known to cause cancer and birth defects.

E-cigarette makers say their products are far safer than tobacco. The American Vaping Association called the report misleading.

"Smokers deserve truthful and accurate information about the relative risks of different nicotine products," said Gregory Conley, president of the Association. 

Chapman said the popularity of e-cigarettes among teens is alarming and he said the flavoring - including bubblegum, grape and cotton candy -  has lead to children drinking the e-liquid and being poisoned.

"National research studies showed e-cigarettes are attracting a whole new group of kids to experiment with this addictive product and could be a gateway to using traditional cigarettes," he said.

Surveys have shown growing numbers of middle and high schoolers have tried an e-cigarette and usage is higher for e-cigarettes with this age group than tobacco cigarettes.

Other states including Oklahoma and Arkansas already have issued advisories cautioning the use of e-cigarettes. Local cities and counties have put regulations in place about where e-cigarettes can be smoked but there hasn't been a statewide policy approved.

The Health Department's advisory comes after a state lawmaker introduced legislation this week to ban e-cigarettes in public places. 

Chapman said he is no taking a position on the legislation. But his report says regulation should include: restrictions on marketing and steps to prevent the poisoning of children.