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.

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“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 Durbin (D-Ill.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).