Nov. 5 2013
Washington, D.C. – Manufacturers of electronic cigarettes say they want to be part of the solution to the tobacco problem, but increasingly they're behaving just like tobacco companies always have. They’re following Big Tobacco's playbook by marketing their products in ways that appeal to kids, dismissing new research showing a sharp spike in youth use of e-cigarettes and fighting effective regulation to protect public health. These actions underscore why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must act quickly to regulate e-cigarettes to protect kids and public health and why the states should include e-cigarettes in their laws regulating tobacco products.
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. Television and online ads for e-cigarettes have featured catchy slogans and celebrity endorsers, such as actor Stephen Dorff and TV personality Jenny McCarthy for blu eCigs and rocker Courtney Love for NJOY. Magazine ads for e-cigarettes feature today’s equivalents of the Marlboro Man and the Virginia Slims woman, depicting e-cigarette use as masculine, glamorous and rebellious. While cigarette manufacturers can no longer use candy and fruit flavors or sponsor events such as auto racing, e-cigarette brands, including Lorillard’s best-selling blu eCigs, are doing both. E-cigarettes are sold in an assortment of sweet, kid-friendly flavors, such as “vivid vanilla,” “fruit loops” and “gummi bear.” The web site for blu eCigs even featured a cartoon pitchman named “Mr. Cool.”
Given these marketing tactics, it isn’t surprising that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that 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.
Instead of taking these troubling findings seriously and supporting strong action to prevent e-cigarette marketing and sales to kids, some e-cigarette makers and associations belittled the CDC’s research. An industry trade group, Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, charged that the CDC and other government officials were trying to create a “false crisis.” Lorillard called the CDC’s findings “dramatically overstated” in a letter to the FDA. Responsible manufacturers would not so recklessly dismiss research that shows youth use of a highly addictive product doubled in just one year.
Now, after e-cigarette makers argued successfully in federal court that the FDA should not be allowed to regulate them as drug delivery devices and they should instead be regulated as tobacco products, many e-cigarette companies and associations are telling Congress that they should not be subject to regulation by FDA at all, even as tobacco products. Advocates of this position are lobbying members of Congress and their staff this week. Their goal appears to be to escape public health regulation as much as possible, just as the tobacco industry long tried to do.
Congress should reject these efforts, and the FDA should move forward quickly with plans to extend its regulatory authority to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Among other things, the FDA should:
Prevent marketing and sales to kids.
Require disclosure of the contents of e-cigarettes and research about their health effects and who is using them, to better understand the health risks they pose.
Set standards for the content of e-cigarettes, including levels of nicotine. E-cigarettes currently contain widely varying levels of nicotine, a highly addictive drug that can be harmful and even lethal in high doses.
Prevent health claims that are not supported by sound science and haven’t been shown to benefit public health.
The states should also include e-cigarettes in their laws governing cigarettes and other tobacco products, prohibiting their sales to kids or use in places where smoking is not allowed. States should reject bills proposed by e-cigarette manufacturers that would establish separate classifications for their products and allow them to escape most public health regulations.
Responsibly marketed and properly regulated, it is possible that 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. If e-cigarette manufacturers want to be part of the solution to the tobacco problem, they should support regulation that protects public health and stop their irresponsible marketing.