Apr. 14 2014
Washington, D.C. – An investigative report released today by 11 members of Congress provides some of the most detailed evidence to date that electronic cigarettes manufacturers are using the same slick marketing tactics long used to market regular cigarettes to kids. These tactics include TV and radio ads that reach youth audiences; sponsorships and free samples at youth-oriented events such as auto races and music festivals; celebrity spokespeople who depict e-cigarette smoking as glamorous; and sweet, kid-friendly flavors with names like Cherry Crush, Chocolate Treat, Peachy Keen and Grape Mint. The report finds that many e-cigarette companies also use social media to promote their products and have widely varying policies regarding sales to minors, with one company reporting that that it does not have any policy barring sales to minors.
This report underscores the urgent need for the Food and Drug Administration to regulate e-cigarettes and take action to prevent their marketing and sales to kids, as it is authorized to do under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The FDA stated more than three years ago that it planned to assert jurisdiction over e-cigarettes and all other tobacco products, and it sent draft regulations to the White House Office of Management and Budget more than six months ago. But these regulations have yet to be issued.
Many of the marketing tactics being used by e-cigarette manufacturers are now illegal for regular cigarettes because they have been found to be effective at enticing kids to smoke. In addition, federal law prohibits the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to minors. However, federal regulations currently do not apply to e-cigarettes.
The new congressional report shows that the Administration’s failure to regulate e-cigarettes is putting our kids at risk. It is unacceptable that it has taken the Administration so long to act while e-cigarette use and marketing has grown rapidly. As the congressional report concludes, “e-cigarette companies are taking advantage of the regulatory vacuum that currently exists to market their products to youth.”
We applaud the Senate and House members for pursuing this investigation and pushing for strong action to protect our children and the nation’s health. The report was compiled by Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jack Reed (D-RI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ).
The new report stems from an investigation of e-cigarettes launched by the lawmakers in September. They wrote to the chief executives of nine e-cigarette companies, asking them to respond to specific questions about their marketing and sales practices. Supplemental information was gathered from company websites and other publicly available sources.
Like cigarette manufacturers, E-cigarette makers claim they don't market to kids. But they're using the same themes and tactics tobacco companies have long used to market regular cigarettes to kids. Given these marketing tactics, it isn’t surprising that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found youth e-cigarette use more than doubled from 2011 to 2012. The percentage of high school students who reported ever using e-cigarettes jumped from 4.7 percent to 10 percent. The CDC estimated that 1.78 million U.S. youth had tried e-cigarettes as of 2012.
The colorful, flavored bottles of liquid nicotine refills for e-cigarettes have also caused a burgeoning number of calls to poison control centers, the CDC reported earlier this month. Such calls tripled between 2012 and 2013. More than 50 percent of these calls to poison hotlines involve incidents involving children aged five and under, CDC researchers found.
Responsibly marketed and properly regulated, e-cigarettes could benefit public health if they help significantly reduce the number of people who use conventional cigarettes and die of tobacco-related disease. However, they also pose serious potential threats to public health. They could serve as a gateway to nicotine addiction and use of regular cigarettes by kids and other non-users. They could reduce the number of smokers who quit if smokers use them in addition to, and not instead of, regular cigarettes. If they continue to be irresponsibly marketed, they could make smoking look glamorous again and undermine decades of work to reduce youth smoking. Effective regulation by the FDA and the states is needed to minimize the potential harms of e-cigarettes and maximize any potential benefits.