Senate Dems' e-cig bill: Don't market to kids

A group of Senate Democrats introduced legislation Wednesday to prohibit electronic cigarette makers from marketing their products to children.

The bill, penned by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), marks the first legislative attempt to crack down on the burgeoning industry, and comes ahead of the Food and Drug Administration’s expected move to regulate the nicotine delivery devices.

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“E-cigarette makers are adopting the deplorable marketing tactics once used by tobacco companies to entice children and teenagers into using their addictive product,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), one of five lawmakers co-sponsoring the bill.

“With fruit and candy flavors and glossy celebrity ads, e-cigarettes makers are undeniably targeting young people.”

The legislation would empower the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to determine what constitutes marketing e-cigarettes to children, and then enforce a ban on the practice in coordination with state attorney’s general, the lawmakers said.

The $1 billion-plus e-cigarette industry is mostly unregulated at the federal level. Public health advocates and some lawmakers, however, are calling on the FDA to bring the industry under its supervision via authority granted to the agency by the 2009 Tobacco Control Act.

Regulations expected to do just that have sat under review at the White House since October. 

In the meantime, proponents of stronger restrictions have been fiercely critical of ad campaigns, including one featuring television personality Jenny McCarthy and the tagline, “freedom to have a cigarette without the guilt.”

They bristle at suggestions that e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to conventional cigarettes, since they produce nicotine vapor instead of smoke and tar, saying there is no research – at least yet – to prove it.

At the same time, the critics point to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finding a dramatic increase in the numbers of high school students who are trying e-cigarettes.

“While FDA regulation of these products remains critical, this legislation would complement oversight and regulation by the FDA, and ultimately help prevent e-cigarette manufacturers from targeting our children,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Along with Boxer, Durbin and Harkin, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) are sponsoring the bill, entitled the Protecting Children from Electronic Cigarette Advertising Act.

The legislation also has backing from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

This story was updated with additional information at 4:10 p.m.