WASHINGTON — Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) wants to kick the TV out of the TVECA.
The abbreviation is short for the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, which represents makers of e-cigarettes, the “vapor” cigarettes that provide nicotine without smoke or tars.
The “TV” Boxer is talking about is television, specifically television advertising of e-cigarettes, which teens and tweens are using at increasing rates, according to a just-released Center for Disease Control study.
TVECA co-founder Thomas Kiklas estimated that e-cigarettes are a $3 billion product with some 6 million users. While he did not have an estimate of the TV ad dollars that figure represents, he said he thought there is a lot of TV advertising and called for more government attention to point-of- sale restrictions.
In a letter last week to the top e-cigarette manufacturers — NJOY, Lorillard, Altria Group, LOGIC Technology and Reynolds American — Boxer suggested e-cig ads were affecting use among teens and tweens and asked the companies to join traditional cigarette manufacturers (in some cases those are the same companies) and refrain from advertising on television.
Cigarettes have not been advertised on TV since the tobacco companies voluntarily agreed in 1971 not to do so.
For a six-month period in 2013, national TV ads accounted for 19% of total e-cigarette ad spending, at $7.4 million, according to a May 2014 report by Legacy, a nonprofit public health organization devoted to tobacco control and created through the 1998 master settlement agreement with tobacco companies.
“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,” Boxer wrote the companies. “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.”
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 those were.
Kilkas said TVECA’s members do not market to minors and are pushed the government to treat e-cigarettes as tobacco, subject to restrictions on their sale to minors.
Former Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who is now retired, put a spotlight on e-cigarette marketing in a hearing last spring. Boxer, who was at the 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.
It is unclear how much traction the issue will get in the now Republican-led Senate. 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 reduce consumption of combustible tobacco.
Thune suggested “e-Vapor” is an emerging technology that people need to have an open mind about as a possible nicotine replacement therapy. But he also pointed out that e-cigarettes have nicotine, which is addictive, and should not be marketed to young people.
Kiklas agreed, but said state and local agencies have not put in place for e-Vapor products “the required minimum restrictions on [point-of-sale] age verification, online age verification and all other currently in-place restrictions minors face when attempting to purchase any tobacco product.”
He called that the most responsible approach to regulating a legal product and said TVECA has been working with those state and local agencies since its founding in 2008 to put those in place. National legislators like Senator Boxer have “done nothing but now grandstand,” he added.
In her letter, Boxer suggested the ads are not rare.
“Youth exposure to advertising, particularly on television, is happening at an alarming rate,” she said, citing a study in the Journal of Pediatrics that found youth exposure to TV e-cigarette ads had increased 256% between 2011 and 2013.
“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,” John Banzhaf, the activist law professor who helped get traditional cigarette ads off the air, told Multichannel News last week. “The medical care and other costs to the general public could well run into billions of dollars a year.”
Banzhaf said 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.”
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