Lawmakers are pushing for the Food and Drug Administration to regulate electronic cigarettes after releasing a report Monday that accused companies of using candy-flavored products and social media advertising to try to hook young users.
The report, which looked at seven e-cigarette companies, found that the companies sponsored or provided free samples at more than 300 events over 2012 and 2013, many of which attracted young people, such as rock concerts.
Companies showed television and radio advertisements during events that have a large viewership of minors, like the Super Bowl. Several companies are also marketing flavored e-cigarettes, like cherry crush and chocolate treat, which the report found could appeal to children.
“E-cigarettes are a candy-flavored addiction which is dangerous to our young people across America,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said Monday. “The report we’re releasing today makes it clear e-cigarettes have made a concerted effort to market to children.”
E-cigarettes look like traditional cigarettes, but work by heating up liquid nicotine into an aerosol rather than burning tobacco. The FDA regulates the sale and marketing of tobacco products such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco but has not yet released a rule governing electronic cigarettes.
Eonsmoke, one of the companies included in the report, said it is taking the report seriously and will look at other ways to make sure minors do not buy its e-cigarettes, but that it already does its best to keep its product out of children’s hands.
“Eonsmoke, as a brand, self-regulates by incorporating numerous warning labels on its marketing material and products,” Eonsmoke CEO Michael Tolmach said in a statement. “We offer flavors other than tobacco because adult smokers prefer variety such as they do in other adult products such as alcohol or coffee, not because we’re aiming marketing towards minors.”
Mr. Durbin called e-cigarettes a “gateway” to tobacco addiction and said it’s “common sense” that minors who smoke e-cigarettes will be more likely to make the jump to traditional cigarettes.
Supporters of e-cigarettes, however, say there is no evidence to support the senator’s claim, and that many people use e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking, not a stepping stone to tobacco.
“Senator Durbin’s opinion that it is ‘common sense’ that the use of vaporizers leads to an increase in smoking cigarettes is misleading and harmful. While we respect Senator Durbin’s opinion, he is unable to cite any studies with direct evidence to support his position,” said Phil Daman, president of the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association, in a statement.
Mr. Durbin said the FDA should claim electronic cigarettes as part of its jurisdiction, allowing the agency to restrict mass-media advertising and prevent the sale and marketing to minors. If the FDA doesn’t act, however, he said there isn’t much that can be done legislatively.
“I’m a realist and I know the likelihood of revisiting this whole issue of FDA authority is not very strong either in the House or Senate,” he said. “I think the FDA has been given the legislative authority that they need to control this product and I hope they’ll act on it as quickly as possible, but trying to rehash this battle, I don’t think it’s in the cards.”
The FDA said it has written a proposal to govern e-cigarette sales and marketing, and it’s being reviewed by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.
Altria, which makes the MarkTen e-cigarette, said the company agrees with Mr. Durbin on many of the changes he’s hoping to make, including regulation by the FDA, not selling to minors or in self-service dispensers, and adding warning labels with facts about the harm e-cigarettes can cause.
“We think that’s an important thing that the agency brings all tobacco products under its regulatory authority,” said David Sylvia, a spokesman from Altria. “I think if you look through the report and recommendations, we’re in agreement with congressional members on those points.”