WASHINGTON (CNN) — Redeploying a major argument from the battle over traditional cigarettes, a dozen Democratic members of Congress released a report on Monday concluding that electronic cigarettes “aggressively (promote) their products by using techniques and venues that appeal to youth” and should be strictly regulated like the non-electronic versions.
“E-cigarette manufactures don’t have to play by the same rules (as traditional cigarette makers),” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, one of the leaders behind the investigation.
“E-cigarette makers are free to sponsor youth-oriented events and produce flavors that appeal to kids. And that is exactly what’s happening,” Waxman told reporters on a conference call.
Currently, e-cigarette companies face no federal limits on how they can advertise or market their products. Twenty-eight states restrict the age of purchase for e-cigarettes and a few companies have self-imposed limits, but otherwise the marketplace is wide open.
With this report, the 12 Democrats involved are trying to build pressure on the Food & Drug Administration to “deem” that e-cigarettes be regulated like conventional smokes and therefore face the same strict limits on advertising and sales.
To make the case for tougher regulation, the Congressional report listed several e-cigarette marketing approaches:
Companies offer dozens of sweet flavored e-cigarettes, including tastes like “Iced Berry” and “Peachy Keen,” which the lawmakers say appeal to children.
Celebrities who appeal to young people, including singer Chris Brown and actor Robert Pattison, have been paid to be seen with the devices.
E-cigarette makers have either sponsored or given away their product at hundreds of kid-friendly events, including baseball games and one day at a Six Flags amusement park. Though, scanning the list, the majority of events cited in the report seemed to be at bars, large concerts and music festivals, which may be geared toward adults.
The evidence was enough for the lawmakers.
“(This report) makes it clear the e-cigarette companies… have made a determined effort… to lure children into this nicotine addiction,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, the other leading sponsor of the report.
“It’s time for the FDA to step up.”
Durbin also cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control showing a rise in e-cigarette use, from 4.7% of all high school students in 2012 to 10% in 2013.
In a sign of how the landscape has changed, the e-cigarette industry partially agrees.
“We agree with a number of the report’s recommendations,” said David Sylvia, speaking for Altria, which owns Philip Morris and sells the MarkTen e-cigarette, “including the FDA asserting regulatory authority over these products and all other tobacco products not yet regulated by the agency.”
Sylvia, who is Altria’s spokesman, stresses that the company wants an age limit on e-cigarette sales and does not advertise on TV now. Those are widely-held stances in the industry.
“Electronic cigarettes and vaporizing products are not for children,” wrote Phil Daman, president of the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association. “They should be available to consumers of legal age.”
As for the flavors that opponents say mimic candy, Daman insists they are targeted to adults.
“Flavors are very common, and increasingly popular, in many adult product categories, including coffee, liqueurs, and other forms of beverage alcohol,” he said.
A spokesman for R.J. Reynold’s Vapor Company told CNN their corporation similarly does not want to sell e-cigarettes to children and wants sales limited by age.
But while the industry is on board with age restrictions, e-cigarette makers strongly oppose a sweeping decision to group them with traditional cigarettes in general.
“It’s important that they consider e-cigarettes as e-cigarettes, not just take the regulations for convention cigarettes and put them on top of it,” Sylvia said.
Much is still unknown about the effects of e-cigarettes.
Research has been limited so far. There is an open debate over whether the products help smokers move away from traditional cigarettes, which contain different combinations of chemicals, or if the electronic devices encourage nicotine addiction and are a gateway to other cigarettes.
It is not clear when the FDA will announce a decision on e-cigarette regulation.
The 12 Democrats backing Monday’s report were Durbin, Waxman, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia.
By Lisa Desjardins