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House Appropriations Bill Helps Tobacco Companies Target Kids with Candy-Flavored E-Cigarettes and Cigars

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
July 12, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Once again protecting the tobacco industry at the expense of America’s kids, the House Appropriations Committee today approved a bill with two provisions that would help tobacco companies market candy-flavored electronic cigarettes and cigars to children. These special-interest provisions would greatly weaken Food and Drug Administration oversight of e-cigarettes and cigars now on the market and completely exempt some cigars from FDA oversight. These provisions would make it much harder for the FDA to protect kids from the huge assortment of candy-flavored e-cigarettes and cigars introduced in recent years, or address other health risks posed by e-cigarettes and cigars.

We applaud House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey for speaking out against these harmful provisions and offering an amendment to protect FDA’s existing authority to oversee tobacco products.

This is the third year in a row that these or similar tobacco industry giveaways were included in the House appropriations bill that funds the Department of Agriculture, the FDA and other agencies. Once again, they must not be allowed to become law. There is no public health justification for these provisions, and our kids will pay the price if they are approved.

These provisions are part of the tobacco industry’s multi-front attack on the FDA’s 2016 rule establishing public health oversight of e-cigarettes, cigars and other previously unregulated tobacco products. Tobacco interests have also filed several lawsuits against the rule and urged the Trump administration to roll it back. In early May, the administration announced a three-month delay in defending and enforcing the rule while it considers its position. To get their way, tobacco companies and trade associations spent more than $4.7 million on federal lobbying in the first quarter of 2017 alone, and the two largest U.S. tobacco companies (Altria and Reynolds American) gave $1.5 million to President Trump’s inauguration.

The provisions in the House appropriations bill would make it much harder for the FDA to protect kids and public health:

  • One provision (Sec. 753) would “grandfather” e-cigarettes and cigars already on the market and exempt them from FDA review of their public health impact, including whether they appeal to kids. These include thousands of products in sweet, kid-friendly flavors like gummy bear, cotton candy, cherry crush and banana smash. This provision would take away one of the FDA’s most effective tools for removing from the market products that egregiously appeal to kids or pose other serious health and safety risks.
  • The other provision (Sec. 752) would completely exempt so-called “large and premium cigars” from FDA oversight, but defines such cigars so broadly that it could end up exempting cheap, machine-made, flavored cigars that are widely used by kids.

The big tobacco companies are behind these efforts. The New York Times reported in September 2016 that Altria drafted an earlier version of the first provision and it was endorsed by R.J. Reynolds. Reynolds and Altria make two of the best-selling e-cigarette brands in the U.S. (Vuse and MarkTen).

In one change this year, the House bill gives the FDA three years to develop a product standard addressing “characterizing flavors” in e-cigarettes. The FDA already has the authority under current law to issue such a product standard, so this provision does not provide the FDA with any new authority. Such a product standard does not offset the damage caused by stripping the FDA of its authority to review products now on the market and remove those products that blatantly appeal to kids or pose other serious health risks. This proposed standard would leave current products on the market for at least three years, and probably much longer, as the FDA develops and implements the new standard.

Congress should allow the FDA to move forward with implementing its 2016 rule without political interference. This rule is needed to keep making progress in reducing youth use of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

The recently released 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that youth use of e-cigarettes fell for the first time in 2016 after skyrocketing since 2011. However, 11.3 percent of high school students still use e-cigarettes, compared to 8 percent who use regular cigarettes. In addition, cigars remain popular among high school boys, who smoke them at about the same rate as cigarettes. As a 2016 Surgeon General’s report concluded, youth use of nicotine in any form is unsafe, can cause addiction and can harm the developing adolescent brain.

Flavors have helped fuel the popularity of e-cigarettes and cigars among kids. A government study found that 81 percent of kids who have ever used tobacco products started with a flavored product. In addition, 81.5 percent of current youth e-cigarette users and 73.8 percent of current youth cigar users say they used the products “because they come in flavors I like.” Studies have found more than 7,700 e-cigarette flavors, with hundreds added each month, and at least 250 cigar flavors. (For details, see our recent report, The Flavor Trap.)

We urge Congress to reject these harmful provisions to weaken FDA oversight of e-cigarettes and cigars. Our nation’s leaders should side with America’s kids, not the tobacco industry.