Eleven Democratic lawmakers from the Senate and the House of Representatives released a report that shows a dramatic recent increase in the marketing of electronic cigarettes with extensive resources being dedicated to social media, sponsorship of youth-oriented events, and television and radio advertisements that reach substantial youth audiences.
The report, “Gateway to Addiction? A Survey of Popular Electronic Cigarette Manufacturers and Marketing to Youth,” is the first comprehensive investigation of e-cigarette marketing tactics and was compiled using responses from eight e-cigarette manufacturers received by the lawmakers from their investigation into the industry and other publicly available information.
In light of the findings in this report, and following investigative reports recently released by the New York Times and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the group of lawmakers once more called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to promptly issue deeming regulations that would expand the agency’s regulatory authority over tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
The report was released on April 14 by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), who was joined by U.S. Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee; U.S. Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; and U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jack Reed (D-RI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR); and U.S. Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ).
The major findings of the report include:
• All surveyed e-cigarette companies appear to use various marketing practices that appeal to youth, such as social media outreach, sponsorships of and free samples provided at youth-oriented events, and radio and television advertisements played during events and programs with significant youth viewership.
• Six of the nine surveyed e-cigarette companies market e-cigarettes in flavors, like Cherry Crush, Chocolate Treat, Peachy Keen, and Grape Mint, that could appeal to children and teens.
• E-cigarette manufacturers have significantly increased marketing spending, more than doubling marketing expenditures between 2012 and 2013. Last year, six leading e-cigarette companies spent a total of $59.3 million on marketing alone.
• Six of the eight respondents support some form of regulation, including restrictions on the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes to children and teens.
“Six months ago, with growing public health concerns regarding liquid nicotine and growing e-cigarette use among young people, my colleagues and I reached out to nine leading e-cigarette companies with questions about their distribution and marketing to children and teenagers,” Durbin said. “The answers came back: from candy flavors to rock concert sponsorships, every single company surveyed in this report has employed a marketing strategy that appears to target youth. For years, federal regulations prohibiting tobacco companies from targeting young people have helped to protect a new generation of smokers from getting hooked on nicotine. Now, we must close this new gateway to addiction to protect our children.”
“E-cigarette makers are starting to prey on kids, just like the big tobacco companies,” said Waxman. “With over a million youth now using e-cigarettes, FDA needs to act without further delay to stop the companies from marketing their addictive products to children.”
“This report provides clear evidence that e-cigarette manufacturers are marketing to kids and teens using tactics that would be illegal if these were traditional cigarettes. This should not be a surprise since some of the e-cigarette makers examined are owned by large tobacco companies well-versed in marketing nicotine products to kids and teens,” Harkin said. “The report shows that e-cigarette manufacturers are investing millions of dollars to create a new generation of nicotine addicts—which is shameful and must be stopped immediately. As the Chairman of the Senate committee with oversight of the FDA, I urge the agency to swiftly issue deeming regulations that give the agency the authority to regulate e-cigarettes and to stop these marketing practices that are already illegal for traditional tobacco products.”
“I am deeply disturbed that e-cigarette companies are mimicking tactics that tobacco companies used in the past to glamorize smoking for youth,” Rockefeller said. “Recent reports on rising poison center calls involving e-cigarettes and children under age six is yet another red flag regarding potential health consequences posed by youth exposure to e-cigarette products. No matter what profit may be involved with encouraging young people to use nicotine products, marketing e-cigarettes to kids should be absolutely off-limits.”
The group of lawmakers also recommended several steps that regulatory authorities and e-cigarette companies should take to ensure that children and teens are adequately protected from deceptive advertising practices or unsubstantiated claims. These recommendations include:
E-cigarette companies should take immediate action to prevent the sale of their products to children and teenagers. This should include refraining from the use of television and radio advertisements.
E-cigarette companies should terminate marketing campaigns that target children and teens, including product promotion through social media and event sponsorships intended for youth audiences.
The FDA should promptly issue deeming regulations asserting the agency’s authority to regulate e-cigarettes.
The FDA should issue regulations to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to children and teenagers by requiring age verification and face-to-face sales, and by limiting purchases through vending machines.
The FDA should implement restrictions on e-cigarette companies marketing to children and teens, and, where appropriate, should work with the Federal Trade Commission to enforce such restrictions.
The FDA should prohibit misleading product claims on e-cigarettes, and should require clear, uniform labels to inform consumers of the health risks associated with their use.
Following a September 2013 Centers for Disease Control & Protection report that showed a dramatic increase in the use of e-cigarettes among children and youth, 12 members of Congress called on nine e-cigarette makers to provide additional information regarding the sale, distribution, labeling, and marketing of their products to children and teens.
The letter was sent to the following companies: NJOY, Lorillard Inc., Reynolds American Inc., Altria Group, Inc., LOGIC Technology, Eonsmoke, GreenSmoke, VMR Products, and Lead By Sales LLC. Every company but one—Lead by Sales LLC, the maker of White Clouds Cigarettes— responded to the lawmakers’ request, and their responses formed the basis of the report.