WASHINGTON -- Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Health Subcommittee Ranking Member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), sent a letter to Food & Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg on Nov. 4 claiming that electronic cigarette companies are targeting young smokers and "appear to be using exactly the same advertising and promotional techniques that were used for decades by cigarette manufacturers to hook teenagers on their products."
The House members also released an online presentation with a side-by-side comparison of cigarette and e-cigarette marketing practices that they said shows how the e-cigarette companies allegedly are using television and magazine advertisements, sport and event sponsorships and cartoon characters once used by the cigarette companies to attract young smokers.
The letter also cited celebrity cigarette endorsements of the past and present, comparing James Arness and Lee Marvin with Stephen Dorff, Eva Gabor with Jenny McCarthy.
The letter concludes: "FDA's delay in regulating e-cigarettes is creating a loophole that manufacturers are exploiting to target young users. … We believe FDA action is essential to ensure that e-cigarette makers stop targeting the nation's youth. We recognize that there is a debate about the value of e-cigarettes as an alternative for addicted adults. But whatever the merits for adult smokers, these addictive products should not be used by teenagers. The companies' practices show that they are not capable of self-regulation. FDA must act now to protect children from their unscrupulous marketing campaigns."
In a previous letter, the members called on the FDA to regulate e-cigarettes by highlighting findings from a Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) report they interpreted as showing that the percentage of adolescents using e-cigarettes is growing rapidly. The CDC suggested that e-cigarettes could serve as a gateway product to nicotine addiction.
The industry has challenged the findings of the CDC report.
Meanwhile, CDC director Tom Frieden, in an interview with USA Today, echoed the claims that e-cigarettes and flavored little cigars fall through loopholes in federal regulations, allowing their manufacturers to target children and teens.
Because little cigars are marginally larger than cigarettes, they fall into a lower tax category, allowing them to be sold for as little as seven cents each, he said.
And while consumers can buy cigarettes only in packs of 20 or more, minors can buy as few as one or two little cigars at a time, making them far easier for them to afford, Frieden said.
Although the FDA banned flavored tobacco cigarettes, there are no such restrictions on cigars or e-cigarettes, he said.
Keeping tabs on new, unregulated products from the tobacco industry, which manufactures most e-cigarettes, is akin to playing "whack-a-mole," Frieden said.
Although the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has said that it intends to regulate e-cigarettes as it does regular cigarettes, it has not yet released new rules, said the report.
Manufacturers of e-cigarettes have argued that they could help smokers give up tobacco, much as nicotine-replacement products do.