E-Cigarette Ads Aimed At Underage Smokers: Congressional Report

A new congressional report indicates that the makers of electronic cigarettes, more commonly known as “e-cigs”, are intentionally targeting children with advertisements for the controversial devices, using celebrity endorsements and selling the products in candy-like flavors.  

On April 14, the staff of several powerful Democratic senators issued a report called “Gateway to Addiction?”, which highlights how the advertising and marketing practices of e-cigarette companies may be aimed at swaying youths into becoming new smokers.

The report calls on the FDA to assert its authority over e-cigarettes, suggesting that advertisements for the products should not be allowed on television and radio at all, and that manufacturers should be banned from marketing in ways that are designed to make the products more attractive to minors. The report also calls for a ban on all sales of e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18.

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The investigation was conducted by staff members from the offices of Senators Dick Durbin, Henry Waxman, Tom Harkin, John D. Rockefeller, Richard Blumenthal, Edward J. Markey, Sherrod Brown, Jack Reed, and Barbara Boxer. Staff members from the office of Representative Frank Pallone from the House were also a part of the report.

“In the absence of federal regulation, some e-cigarette manufacturers appear to be using marketing tactics similar to those previously used by the tobacco industry to sell their products to minors,” the report states.

The report found that all companies surveyed conducted marketing practices that appeal to youth. These included handing out free samples at youth-oriented events, employing flavors like Cherry Crush, Chocolate Treat, Peachy Keen, and Grape Mint, and hiring celebrity spokespersons. According to the report, six e-cigarette companies spent more than $59 million on e-cigarette marketing in 2013.

Electronic cigarettes are battery powered devices that heat a nicotine liquid solution into a vapor that is inhaled by the user. The solutions are sold in varying amounts of nicotine and come in hundreds of different flavors.

Health officials are concerned with the rising popularity of e-cigs among teens. A recent report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found regular use of the e-cigarettes among middle and high school students has more than doubled over the past few years.

The FDA issued a health warning about e-cigarettes in 2009, warning consumers of potentially toxic chemicals in the solution. The study revealed a cocktail of harmful chemicals, including diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze, and nitrosomes, known cancer-causing chemicals.

In March, a study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that e-cigarettes appear to be a gateway to smoking for teens. The study suggested that the use of e-cigarettes among teens was associated with higher odds of smoking tobacco cigarettes.

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