House, Senate Dems accuse e-cigarette companies of marketing to children

A dozen Democratic lawmakers are probing the ways that electronic cigarette manufacturers market their products, raising pressure on the industry ahead of expected upcoming federal regulations.

In a letter to nine companies on Thursday, the legislators from both chambers expressed their concern that the firms are marketing e-cigarettes, which are powered by batteries and vaporize nicotine without producing smoke, to children.

“Despite claims from some e-cigarette makers that they do not market their products to youth and that kids should not have access to their products, e-cigarette manufacturers appear to be applying marketing tactics similar to those used by the tobacco industry to hook a new generation of children,“ they wrote.

The lawmakers asked the companies 20 questions to "better understand" their advertising and sales practices.

The letter comes on the heels of data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month showing that the percentage of middle- and high-school students that use e-cigarettes had doubled from 2011 to 2012. Last year, more than 1.78 million students had tried e-cigarettes, the survey found.

Currently, e-cigarettes are not subject to the same laws as traditional tobacco products.

That has allowed manufacturers to advertise their products in TV and radio commercials, offer flavored versions and give out free samples.

The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, is expected to unveil new legislation in coming weeks that would allow it to extend its authority to e-cigarettes and cigars.

Last week, four House Democrats wrote to the agency asking it to speed up its work to close what they termed a “regulatory loophole.” Forty state and territory attorney general reiterated the message on Tuesday. 

The lawmakers who sent the letter on Thursday were Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Sens. Dick DurbinDick DurbinGreat Lakes senators seek boost for maritime system Wikileaks: Durbin pushed unknown Warren for Obama bank regulator The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Ill.), Tom HarkinTom HarkinGrassley challenger no stranger to defying odds Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream Do candidates care about our health or just how much it costs? MORE (D-Iowa), Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerLobbying world Overnight Tech: Senators place holds on FCC commissioner Overnight Tech: Senate panel to vote on Dem FCC commissioner MORE (D-W.Va), Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalOvernight Healthcare: Biden hints at new money for cancer research | Trump details opioid plan | Dem urges feds to reject EpiPen settlement Dem calls on DOJ to reject EpiPen settlement Why Yahoo's breach could turn the SEC into a cybersecurity tiger MORE (D-Conn.), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeySanders, Dem senators press Obama to halt ND pipeline Senate Dems ask Obama to block Atlantic, Arctic offshore drilling Federal agency under fire for selling recalled cars MORE (D-Mass.), Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownLobbying World Podesta floated Bill Gates, Bloomberg as possible Clinton VPs Peck Madigan Jones hires Obama, Clinton White House alum MORE (D-Ohio), Jack ReedJack ReedArmani, Batali among guests at White House state dinner Overnight Finance: Jobless claims near record low | Cops bust IRS phone scam in India | Republican demands Iran sanctions docs Senate Dems demand answers from Wells Fargo over treatment of military MORE (D-R.I.), Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerHouse and Senate water bills face billion difference Boxer, Feinstein endorse Kamala Harris in two-Dem Senate race Dems gain upper hand on budget MORE (D-Calif.), Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampMoney for nothing: Rethinking CO2 Liberal groups urge Schumer to reject Bayh for Banking gavel Court ruling could be game changer for Dems in Nevada MORE (D-N.D.) and Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyOvernight Healthcare: Top ObamaCare lobbyists reject 'public option' push | Groups sound alarm over Medicare premium hike Top ObamaCare lobbyists reject 'public option' push Liberal groups urge Schumer to reject Bayh for Banking gavel MORE (D-Ore.).