Senate Dems want e-cigarette investigation

A group of Senate Democrats called Wednesday for a federal probe into marketing tactics being used to sell electronic cigarettes, accusing the burgeoning industry of targeting kids and making unproven health claims.

The Obama administration is preparing to issue a rule to expand its oversight to the largely unregulated industry, which is expected to eclipse $1.75 billion in global sales this year.

In the meantime, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the marketing practices of e-cigarette companies.

In a letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, the lawmakers said the commission should pursue enforcement action against any company found to have made unsubstantiated assertions in their advertising.

“These claims may be false, misleading, and deceptive — as they state or seem to imply that these products have been found safe and effective in helping smokers quit,” the senators wrote, adding that companies engaging in the practice should be held responsible, “to the full extent of the law.”

Proponents of e-cigarettes say the products might indeed be less harmful than conventional cigarettes because they produce nicotine vapor instead of smoke and tar. However, without definitive research, which could be years away, companies are forbidden from saying so directly in their marketing campaigns.

Still, some companies have flirted with the suggestion, and have drawn fire from critics who say they are glamorizing the products.

For instance, Charlotte, N.C.-based Blu-eCigs began running ads this year featuring television personality Jenny McCarthy and the tagline, “freedom to have a cigarette without the guilt.”

Other companies have made claims that their product “adds years to your life,” and have encouraged consumers to “Quit Smoking with Electronic Cigarettes,” according to the lawmakers.

Critics say unregulated e-cigarette firms are marketing their wares to youths, pointing to cotton candy and pancake-flavored brands, among others.

The lawmakers cite a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that concluded that e-cigarette use among middle school and high school students more than doubled between 2011 and 2012. The data suggests e-cigarettes could get kids hooked on nicotine and set them on a path to smoking conventional cigarettes, according to the senators.

 “Given the unknown health implications of electronic cigarettes … it is important to know more about e-cigarette manufacturers’ marketing and advertising practices to ensure youth are not targeted,” they wrote.

Tags Barbara Boxer Dick Durbin Ed Markey Electronic cigarette Richard Blumenthal Sherrod Brown Tom Harkin

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