WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) today joined with ten Members of Congress in releasing a report that documents a significant increase in the marketing of electronic cigarettes – or e-cigarettes – to young audiences. The report, “Gateway to Addiction? A Survey of Popular Electronic Cigarette Manufacturers and Marketing to Youth,” shows e-cigarette makers are making a concerted effort to reach young Americans through robust social media campaigns and sponsorship of youth-oriented events, in addition to broadcast advertisements. The report was compiled using responses from eight of the major e-cigarette manufacturers themselves, in addition to publicly-available information gathered by the lawmakers in the course of their investigation into the growing industry.
In releasing the report, the lawmakers renewed their March 2014 call for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the rapidly evolving market of e-cigarettes and other nicotine products. Nicotine is highly addictive, but there are currently no age restrictions or standardized warning labels on e-cigarette devices.
“This report highlights a disturbing trend in the marketing of e-cigarettes to young people and getting them to become e-cigarette smokers. E-cigarette manufacturers should have to play by the same rules as others in the cigarette industry. We have come a long way since I proposed legislation in the late nineties to keep tobacco companies from advertising to children, but federal law has not kept pace with new nicotine delivery products,” said Reed. “The FDA should expand its regulatory oversight to include these e-cigarette products and move quickly to curtail the marketing of these nicotine devices to young people.”
In addition to Senator Reed, the report was backed by lead authors U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), as well as U.S. Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA); John D. Rockefeller (D-WV); Richard Blumenthal (D-CT); Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR); and U.S. Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ).
Electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigarettes and e-cigs, are battery-operated products that simulate traditional cigarettes by converting cartridges of liquid typically filled with addictive nicotine, other additives, and flavorings into vapor inhaled by the user. Currently, e-cigarettes, nicotine liquids, and nicotine dissolvable products are not subject to federal laws and regulations that apply to traditional cigarettes, including a ban on marketing to youth.
The major findings of the report include:
- All surveyed e-cigarette companies appear to use various marketing practices that appeal to youth, such as social media outreach, sponsorships of and free samples provided at youth-oriented events, and radio and television advertisements played during events and programs with significant youth viewership.
- Six of the nine surveyed e-cigarette companies market their products in candy-sounding flavors, such as Cherry Crush, Chocolate Treat, Peachy Keen, and Grape Mint, which could appeal to children and teens while simultaneously distracting users from the negative health implications of the products.
- E-cigarette manufacturers have significantly increased marketing spending, more than doubling marketing expenditures between 2012 and 2013. Last year, six leading e-cigarette companies spent a total of $59.3 million on marketing alone.
- Six of the eight respondents support some form of regulation, including restrictions on the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes to children and teens.
According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, 1.8 million middle and high school students said they tried e-cigarettes in 2012, and a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the percentage of high school students who had tried them had more than doubled in just one year – indicating that e-cigarette companies could be targeting youth through advertisements. More than 76 percent of those users said they also smoked conventional cigarettes, suggesting that for many young people, e-cigarettes could be a gateway to nicotine addiction and smoking of conventional cigarettes.
As part of today’s report, the group of lawmakers also recommended several steps that regulatory authorities and e-cigarette companies should take to ensure that children and teens are adequately protected from deceptive advertising practices or unsubstantiated claims. These recommendations include:
- E-cigarette companies should take immediate action to prevent the sale of their products to children and teenagers. This should include refraining from the use of television and radio advertisements.
- E-cigarette companies should terminate marketing campaigns that target children and teens, including product promotion through social media and event sponsorships intended for youth audiences.
- The FDA should promptly issue deeming regulations asserting the agency’s authority to regulate e-cigarettes.
- The FDA should issue regulations to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to children and teenagers by requiring age verification and face-to-face sales, and by limiting purchases through vending machines.
- The FDA should implement restrictions on e-cigarette companies marketing to children and teens, and, where appropriate, should work with the Federal Trade Commission to enforce such restrictions.
- The FDA should prohibit misleading product claims on e-cigarettes, and should require clear, uniform labels to inform consumers of the health risks associated with their use.
As e-cigarette use and prevalence rises, so too are illnesses related to these potentially harmful products, leading the American Association of Poison Control Centers to issue a specific warning to parents last month to store the liquid nicotine used in these battery-operated devices away from children. The warning followed a nationwide surge in calls about exposure to e-cigarettes and the liquid nicotine they contain — from 269 calls nationwide in 2011 to 459 in 2012, 1,414 in 2013, and 651 this year, through March 24 alone.