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Study Finds Teens Can Easily Buy E-Cigarettes Online – FDA Must Act to Protect Kids

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
March 02, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC – A new study published today finds that Internet vendors of electronic cigarettes do little to prevent youth from purchasing their products and teens can easily buy e-cigarettes online despite claims that online vendors verify customer age. The study, conducted in North Carolina, found that only five out of 98 attempts by teens to buy e-cigarettes online were blocked by online vendors’ attempts to verify customer age.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina and published online in The Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.

This study underscores the urgent need for the Food and Drug Administration to strengthen and finalize its proposed rule to regulate all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, and stop the marketing and sales of these products to kids. This study follows recent reports showing alarming increases in youth use of e-cigarettes and poisoning cases related to e-cigarettes.

The FDA and the White House must make it a priority to issue a final rule regulating e-cigarettes and to do so no later than April 25, 2015 – one year after the FDA issued its proposed rule. It is unacceptable that addictive and potentially toxic products are so easily available to kids over the Internet. E-cigarettes currently are sold without any federal regulations to stop them from being marketed and sold to kids and without requirements for safety warnings and childproof packaging.

The FDA first announced four years ago (in early 2011) that it planned to regulate e-cigarettes, cigars and other unregulated tobacco products, so these important public health protections are long overdue. How many more kids have to be addicted or poisoned by e-cigarettes before our government acts? Our kids can’t wait.

The FDA’s proposed rule would prohibit sales of e-cigarettes to children under 18 nationwide, require retailers to verify age for all over-the-counter sales and restrict vending machines to adult-only facilities. In comments filed in August, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and 23 other public health organizations urged the FDA to go further by prohibiting online sales, or at the very least to impose tougher age verification requirements on Internet sellers.

It is also critical that the FDA strengthen its proposed rule by cracking down on marketing and flavors that appeal to kids and requiring childproof packaging for nicotine liquids. It’s not surprising that more kids are using e-cigarettes and being poisoned by them as e-cigarettes are being marketed in ways that appeal to kids and sold in child-friendly flavors and colors. E-cigarettes have been marketed using the same tactics long used to market regular cigarettes to kids, including celebrity endorsements, slick TV and magazine ads, and sponsorships of race cars and concerns. And despite the fact that nicotine is toxic, nicotine liquids used in e-cigarettes are sold in a rainbow of colors with flavors including “vivid vanilla,” “cherry crush,” chocolate, Jolly Rancher, Gummy Bear and Bubble Gum.

Recent evidence should compel the government to act quickly to regulate e-cigarettes and protect our kids.

A national survey released in December showed teen use of e-cigarettes surpassing use of regular cigarettes for the first time. The federal government-sponsored Monitoring the Future survey reported that 17.1 percent of 12th graders, 16.2 percent of 10th graders and 8.7 percent of 8th graders reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days (compared to 13.6 percent, 7.2 percent and 4 percent in each grade who reported using a conventional cigarette). In November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that e-cigarette use among high school students tripled between 2011 and 2013.

In addition, poisoning cases involving e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine jumped by 148 percent from 2013 to 2014 and have increased more than 14 fold since 2011, according to data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC). Call to poison control centers involving exposures to e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine increased to 3,831 in 2014 from 1543 in 2013 and 271 in 2011, according to the AAPCC. More than half the calls involved a child under the age of six.

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. But in the absence of FDA oversight, the irresponsible marketing and sale of e-cigarette poses a serious threat to our nation’s kids and health.

View the press release on the study from the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.