What the E-Cigarette Industry Is Up Against

Senators grill blu, NJOY executives over alleged marketing to youth

Jay Rockefeller, Aggressive E-Cigarette Marketing & Potential Consequences for Youth, U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores / Tobacco)

Jay Rockefeller

WASHINGTON -- Electronic cigarettes offering fruity flavors were the subject of a contentious Senate debate about whether manufacturers are trying to appeal to young people, reported the Associated Press.

"The last thing anyone should want to do is encourage young people to start using a new nicotine-delivery product," Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said as he opened a hearing, "Aggressive E-Cigarette Marketing & Potential Consequences for Youth," for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation.

The committee questioned Jason Healy, president of blu eCigs, and Craig Weiss, president of NJOY, for more than two hours about industry marketing practices that include running TV commercials and sponsoring race cars and other events. Both men insisted they are not trying to glamorize smoking and do not target young people--Healy said that the average age for consumers of his e-cigarettes is 51--and that their products are a critical alternative for people trying to quit traditional cigarettes.

Healy said that his company, owned by Greensboro, N.C.-based combustible cigarette maker Lorillard Inc., has voluntary restrictions in place such as limiting advertising placements to media and events where the target audience is at least 85% adults.

"blu … has not waited for FDA action to address youth access. We have actively advocated for and supported state legislation to prevent minors from purchasing electronic cigarettes, and we require third-party age verification for online sales," he testified.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), questioned the youthful-sounding flavors for e-cigarettes. Healy's company, for example, sells e-cigarettes that come in flavors like Cherry Crush, Peach Schnapps and Pina Colada.

"The growth in youth awareness and use of e-cigarettes has coincided with a flood of recent e-cigarette marketing," said Rockefeller, according to a Reuters report. "While major e-cigarette companies reiterate that they target only adults, a large youth audience still appears to be getting their message loud and clear."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), said the advertisements currently been shown have "a very eerie and haunting feel."

"We've seen this movie before," he said. "You are using the same tactics and ads used by Big Tobacco that proved so effective."

Weiss testified that "no minor should be using a nicotine-containing product of any kind," and said his company only targeted adults in its advertising.

He was challenged by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who pointed to an ad featuring Robert Pattinson, star of the "Twilight" movies, and asked if Weiss really believed the handsome young star appealed to adults.

Weiss said the ad was legitimate since Pattinson "is an adult smoker."

"He is an adult in movies that appeal to kids," Klobuchar said.

In his testimony, Weiss argued that restricting e-cigarette ads would prevent the company from delivering the message that the products are for adult smokers, citing its "Friends Don't Let Friends Smoke" campaign.

"Paradoxically, children could be the biggest losers from an effort … to restrict e-cigarette advertising. … The best thing we can do for the health of all of our children … is to ensure that they grow up in a world in which neither their parents nor any of their other adult role models are smoking combustion cigarettes," he testified.

In his concluding remarks (at approximately 2:19:35 in the hearing; click here to view the full hearing and to read prepared testimony), Rockefeller said, "I think this whole thing is nothing more than 'it's all about the money.' I think it's uncreative, I think it's nasty. … I am ashamed of you. I don't know how you sleep at night. I don't know what gets you to work in the morning except the color green of dollars."

[Editor's Note: CSP Daily News does not necessarily endorse the opinions, assertions, conclusions or recommendations of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation.]