Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has asked e-cigarette manufacturers to join traditional cigarette manufacturers and voluntarily refrain from advertising on television.
That came in a letter to the top e-cigarette manufacturers: NJOY, Lorillard Inc., Altria Group Inc., LOGIC Technology and Reynolds American Inc., which includes big names in the traditional cigarette market.
"Many e-cigarette advertisements currently on air make clear companies are trying to target a wider audience than what many in your industry claim is the intended market: those who are looking to quit smoking. For nearly 45 years, manufacturers of traditional cigarettes have agreed to a ban on television advertising. I merely ask that you restrict advertising of e-cigarettes in the same manner," Boxer wrote.
She cited Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stats showing e-cigarette use tripled between 2011 and 2013.
She gave the companies 30 days to pledge not to advertise on TV. She did not say what the consequences of inaction would be, but said the industry would be responsible for whatever that was.
Former Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) put a spotlight on e-cigarette marketing last spring.
The tone of that hearing decidedly angry and accusatory, with Democrats in particular characterizing it as a repeat of the Big Tobacco hearings, where companies took an oath, and then lied.
Rockefeller has retired, but Boxer, who was at a hearing with e-cigarette execs and none too pleased with their testimony, is picking up the gauntlet.
She was particularly incensed at that hearing by e-cigarette flavors like cotton candy, gummy bears, Captain Crunch and Bazooka Joe, and ads that appeared to feature Smurfs toking on the e-cigarettes, which are smokeless liquid nicotine-delivery systems.
It is unclear how much traction the issue will get in the now Republican-led Senate. Now Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-S.D pointed out in the hearing that e-cigarettes have no tar and may be helpful to the extent that they do reduce consumption of combustible tobacco. He suggested it was an emerging technology that people needed to have an open mind to as a nicotine replacement therapy.
But he also pointed out that e-cigarettes have nicotine, which is addictive, and should not be marketed to young people.
"I strongly oppose commercials for e-cigarettes because of the huge danger - now being seen in some studies - that many teens and even pre-teens will be introduced to nicotine addiction through e-cigarettes, and then eventually move on to tobacco cigarettes," said John Banzhaf, the activist law professor who helped get traditional cigarette ads off the air. "The medical care and other costs to the general public could well run into billions of dollars a year."
Banzhaf, who says he also filed the complaint that helped get the FDA involved with e-cigarettes, said that "as the court held in my earlier cigarette cases, radio and TV have a unique appeal to youngsters; one which is much greater than print and other forms of advertising and promotion."
Banzhaf said that he would prefer the FDA ban the commercials outright so their absence "would not depend on the whims of different executives who may come and go over time."
Boxer's letter is reprinted below:
I write today to ask you to protect our nation's youth and the public health by refraining from advertising e-cigarettes on television.
Last year, the Surgeon General noted in "The Health Consequences of Smoking-50 Years of Progress" that nicotine has known harmful health effects, including consequences for adolescent brain development. Yet the popularity of e-cigarettes is on the rise among youth. In November, research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that e-cigarette use among high schoolers tripled over two years from 2011 to 2013. And these children are being exposed to potentially dangerous chemicals, including nicotine, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, propylene glycol and nanoparticles that are present in traditional cigarettes, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Considering these risks, youth exposure to advertising, particularly on television, is happening at an alarming rate. Last June, a study by RTI International published in the journal Pediatrics found that youth exposure to television e-cigarette advertisements increased 256% from 2011 to 2013. The study also found that e-cigarette television ads appeared on broadcast network programs that were among the 100 highest rated youth programs for the 2012-2013 TV season.
Many e-cigarette advertisements currently on air make clear companies are trying to target a wider audience than what many in your industry claim is the intended market: those who are looking to quit smoking. For nearly 45 years, manufacturers of traditional cigarettes have agreed to a ban on television advertising. I merely ask that you restrict advertising of e-cigarettes in the same manner.
Please respond to me within 30 days as to whether your company will pledge to refrain from advertising on television. Believe me, your positive response will save lives. If you don't agree, your industry will be responsible for the consequences.
United States Senator
Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
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