House Appropriations Committee Helps Tobacco Companies Target Kids by Voting to Weaken FDA Oversight of E-Cigarettes, Cigars

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
April 19, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC – Just days after the latest government survey underscored the need to protect America’s kids from a new generation of tobacco products, including candy-flavored electronic cigarettes and cigars, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee today shamefully voted to do the exact opposite and make it easier for tobacco companies to keep targeting our children.

The committee backed two provisions that would greatly weaken FDA oversight of e-cigarettes and cigars and make it harder for the FDA to protect children from these products. One provision would block the FDA from implementing its long-overdue rule to regulate all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars, unless the rule exempts certain cigars. The second provision would limit FDA oversight of e-cigarettes and cigars already on the market, including products with kid-friendly flavors such as cotton candy, gummy bear and fruit punch that have flooded the market in recent years. These two provisions were included in the appropriations bill that funds the FDA and other agencies.

Make no mistake: These provisions benefit the tobacco industry at the expense of our nation’s children. They protect the industry’s ability to target kids with candy- and fruit-flavored e-cigarettes and cigars and help the industry addict yet another generation of children. Why in the world is Congress helping tobacco companies lure kids with gummy bear-flavored e-cigarettes?

Today’s committee action recklessly ignores the findings of the 2015 National Tobacco Youth Survey released last week, which showed that e-cigarettes are now by far the most commonly used tobacco product by kids. The survey showed there was a more than ten-fold increase in e-cigarette use among high school students between 2011 and 2015 – from 1.5 percent to 16 percent who reported using e-cigarettes in the past month. It also found that a record-high 3 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2015.

The survey also showed that high school boys now smoke cigars at a slightly higher rate than cigarettes – 11.5 percent for cigars and 10.7 percent for cigarettes. In 2015, 1.4 million middle and high school students smoked cigars.

These trends are no accident. In recent years, tobacco companies have peddled cheap, sweet-flavored cigars to get around a federal ban on flavored cigarettes, while e-cigarettes have been irresponsibly marketed and sold in literally thousands of flavors. The Obama Administration should promptly issue the overdue rule establishing FDA oversight of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars, and the FDA should act to stop the use of marketing and flavors that attract kids.

Instead of supporting the FDA’s efforts to protect kids, the Appropriations Committee acted to undermine them.

The proposed cigar exemption creates another loophole that tobacco companies will surely exploit to keep targeting kids. While this provision claims to exempt “large and premium cigars,” it defines these products so broadly that it could also exempt some cheap, flavored cigars that are widely used by kids. It invites tobacco companies to modify their products to qualify for this exemption, as they have done previously to evade public health protections.

No tobacco product should be exempt from science-based FDA oversight to protect kids and public health. The health risks of cigars include several types of cancer, as well as heart and lung disease.

The second provision approved by the Appropriations Committee “grandfathers” e-cigarettes and cigars already on the market and exempts them from a critical scientific review by the FDA to determine their impact on public health, including whether they appeal to kids. This provision makes it much harder for the FDA to promptly protect kids from the many sweet-flavored e-cigarettes and cigars that have been introduced in recent years. This provision was adopted as an amendment offered by Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK).

We urge members of Congress to reject these very harmful provisions. They should side with America’s kids, not the tobacco industry.