Dems: E-cigs 'preying on our children'

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A top Senate Democrat who has been critical of electronic cigarette manufacturers is making a new push to block them from marketing to children.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health Committee, and two House Democrats wrote to the state attorneys general in their own states on Wednesday requesting that they step up enforcement to prevent e-cigarette companies from "preying on our children."

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"You have been leaders in the anti-smoking movement," they wrote to the attorneys general of Iowa, California and Vermont. "We can think of no better way to acknowledge the efforts of the last 50 years and to start the next phase of the campaign against tobacco use than acting now to prevent e-cigarette companies from preying on our children with their addictive and dangerous products."

Harkin was joined by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) in his latest push against e-cigarettes. They asked the states to classify e-cigarettes the same way as traditional cigarettes, which would prevent manufacturers from marketing these new tobaccoless products to children.

Under the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement from 1998, tobacco companies cannot promote cigarettes in certain ways that appeal to children. But, so far, these advertising and marketing restrictions do not apply to e-cigarettes.

In the letter, Harkin, Waxman and Welch told the attorneys general that this would be a "bold step in the battle against tobacco."

"This action would have an immediate and much needed impact because it would stop the electronic cigarette — or e-cigarette — makers from marketing their products in ways that are appealing to kids," they wrote.

The three congressional Democrats suggested that e-cigarettes could serve as a "gateway" to nicotine addition, and blamed what they said was a lack of regulation for the rising use of e-cigarettes by children.

They cited a new report from the surgeon general that found thousands of teenagers and children experiment with tobacco products each day.

Harkin and the others also pointed to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show the use of e-cigarettes by teenagers doubled over the course of one year from 2011-2012.

They said these studies point to an "emerging epidemic of e-cigarette use by children."

But the three Democrats also said this move would not prevent adults from using e-cigarettes.

"Bringing e-cigarettes under the Master Settlement Agreement would not remove them from the market or make them unavailable to adults who may see them as a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes," they said. "But it would bar the manufacturers from targeting youth, using cartoons and youth-oriented sponsorships to promote their products, and advertising on outdoor billboards."