(DES MOINES, Iowa) Attorney General Tom Miller today urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) to prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, and restrict their ingredients and advertising.
In a bipartisan letter signed by 36 state attorneys general and attorneys general in three U.S. territories, Miller urged the FDA to immediately take all available measures to regulate electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes,” as “tobacco products” under the Tobacco Control Act.
E-cigarettes, an increasingly widespread product that is growing rapidly among both youth and adults, are battery operated products that heat liquid nicotine, derived from tobacco plants, into a vapor that the user inhales.
“I’m concerned about this product, which is really nothing more than a nicotine delivery device,” Miller said. “I don’t think any reasonable person thinks it’s okay for these companies to sell e-cigarettes to children, which is one of many good reasons why the FDA needs to act.”
Unlike traditional tobacco products, there are no federal age restrictions that prevent children from obtaining e-cigarettes. Noting the growing use of e-cigarettes, and the growing prevalence of advertising, the letter highlights the need to protect youth from becoming addicted to nicotine through these new products.
“National sales are growing exponentially, and so are the marketing tactics by the sellers. Manufacturers are adding fruit and candy flavors, some are using cartoons to advertise, and now we’re seeing ads on television,” Miller added. “A lot of the marketing efforts pretty clearly try to appeal to children.”
A survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that from 2011 to 2012, the percentages of youth who have tried or currently use e-cigarettes both roughly doubled. The survey estimates that nearly 1.8 million middle and high school students have tried e-cigarettes in 2012.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, nicotine is highly addictive and has immediate bio-chemical effects on the brain and body at any dosage, and is toxic in high doses. The lack of regulation of e-cigarettes puts youth at risk of developing a lifelong addiction to a potentially dangerous product that could also act as a gateway to using other tobacco products.
E-cigarette manufacturers are using marketing tactics similar to those big tobacco used in the last 50 to 100 years to attract new smokers. Celebrity endorsements, television advertising, cartoons, fruit flavors, attractive packaging and cheap prices all serve to encourage youth consumption of these dangerous products.
Additionally, some marketing claims that these products do not contain the same level of toxins and carcinogens found in traditional cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products. These claims imply that e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to smoking, when in fact nicotine is highly addictive, the health effects of e-cigarettes have not been adequately studied, and the ingredients are not regulated and may still contain carcinogens. The lack of regulation puts the public at risk because users of e-cigarettes are inhaling unknown chemicals with unknown effects.
In 1998, Miller and attorneys general of 45 states signed a landmark $206 billion agreement with the four largest tobacco companies in the United States to recover billions of dollars in costs associated with smoking-related illnesses, and restrict cigarette advertising to prevent youth smoking. Since then, more than 40 other tobacco companies have signed onto the agreement.
The Master Settlement Agreement created a broad array of restrictions on the advertising, marketing and promotion of cigarettes. For example, it bans targeting children through advertising. It also includes prohibitions on outdoor advertising of cigarettes and the advertising of cigarettes in public transit facilities, as well as the use of cigarette brand names on merchandise, and a host of other restrictions.
The central purpose of the MSA was to reduce smoking, and particularly youth smoking in the United States. Since it was announced, cigarette sales in the United States have fallen substantially and youth smoking has declined even more.