By Tim Devaney - 04/24/14 05:40 PM EDT
Senate Democrats are concerned that children and teenagers could still gain access to candy-flavored electronic cigarettes under new rules from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA announced Thursday it is considering regulations that would prohibit e-cigarette manufacturers from selling or marketing to people under the age of 18, but the rules stop short of banning candy-flavored e-cigs, which critics say are attractive to children.
"Prohibiting sales of these products to minors is a positive step, but it isn't enough," the senators wrote. "As long as e-cigarette companies continue to take pages from Big Tobacco's old and cynical marketing playbook, our children will remain vulnerable to the grave dangers of nicotine addiction."
Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) joined Durbin in criticizing the FDA's proposal.
Separately, Senate Health Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) also called for the FDA to ban candy-flavored e-cigarettes before the agency moves forward with the rule.
"I urge the agency to keep their foot on the gas and take strong action towards ensuring that they are kept out of the hands of young people — in particular, by including in the finalized rule a prohibition against candy flavors used to entice kids to become addicted to their products," Harkin said.
The FDA admits it is concerned that e-cigarette manufacturers are marketing to children.
"If a kid starts with e-cigarettes, nicotine being addictive, it creates a heightened vulnerability that they will go on to use other tobacco products, as well," FDA Commission Margaret Hamburg said in a press call.
Hamburg said the agency is taking strides to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of children by making it illegal for manufacturers to sell e-cigs to minors, as well as prohibiting them from distributing free samples or selling them in vending machines that are located in buildings where children have access.
However, the rule does not ban candy-flavored e-cigarettes, which the American Heart Association called the "Trojan Horse of nicotine."
"We believe the rule falls short by allowing industry to continue to advertise e-cigarettes, often with attractive and seductive flavorings, and increases the risk that we will raise yet another generation addicted to nicotine," American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement.
The e-cigarette industry agrees that e-cigarettes should not be sold or marketed to children, but says it should be able to sell candy-flavored products to adults.
"Flavor options are important to the consumer experience," the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association said in a press release. "We continue to oppose any restriction on the availability of e-liquid; therefore, we support the proposal in the current FDA document, which does not call for flavor restrictions."