West Virginia Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller does not like e-cigarette manufacturers.
“Why in the hell are you marketing these things and selling them and putting them online?” Rockefeller asked at a Senate committee hearing Wednesday, referring to what he called aggressive, youth-oriented marketing. Many of the practices e-cigarette companies are currently using are prohibited for normal tobacco companies.
Rockefeller came down especially hard on e-cigarette flavors, maintaining that they were designed with children and youth in mind.
“I’m an adult, so would I be attracted to cherry crush or vanilla dreams? Sixty years ago, I might’ve been. Bazooka Joe?—no turn on for me. Gummy Bears? No. That’s not adult stuff. Chocolate Tootsie? That’s not adult stuff—and using celebrity spokespeople to promote them? God rest their souls.”
“You’re going to hear that they don’t target kids. That’s what the tobacco companies have been saying for fifty years. To this today, they have never admitted running a single ad targeting kids,” agreed Matthew Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
A recently released study published in the journal Tobacco Control showed that the e-cigarette flavor market has exploded, with 466 online brands and approximately 7,700 flavors available. According to the paper, there was an increase of 242 flavors every month in a 17 month period, which were found by 14 research assistants scouring the internet.
In response to this and other studies, Susanne Tanski, associate professor at Dartmouth and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Tobacco Consortium, stated that e-cigarettes serve as a potential gateway to traditional cigarettes.
Tobacco advertising directly influences youth, and while the health studies are inconclusive, “We do know enough to say this: We must act now to protect children from these risks,” she said.
Rockefeller was somewhat more hostile to Jason Healy of Blu and Craig Weiss of Njoy, CEOs of two of the leading companies in the e-cigarette market. “Making money is a wonderful thing, but children and teens should not be guinea pigs as we await more conclusive research. Why would you do that? You want to make money, is that your answer? Go for that dollar,” he said.
Experts are concerned that e-cigarette companies are misleading the public, saying that they are not advertising to youth, yet giving out free samples, sponsoring concerts, and advertising in magazines, TV, and social media. “You can smoke one of these and look like Gloria Swanson—is that her name?” Rockefeller said.
Both Healy and Weiss argued that their companies have taken additional steps to avoid marketing to youth, with Healy noting that the average age of a Blue consumer was 51.1 years old, but Rockefeller wasn’t having it.
“Boy, life is easy when you can answer like that,” he said
Healy and Weiss agreed with the need for FDA regulation, so long as it was based in well-confirmed and sound science. “We have not waited for FDA action,” Healy noted. “We have supported state legislative action to prevent sales to minors. This should be an adult-only product. We require third-party age verification for purchasing our products.”
“E-cigs are likely the most significant harm reduction product ever,” he added.
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