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    Congress Is Coming for E-Cigarettes

    Written by

    Jason Koebler

    Staff Writer

    Congress is not into the fact that you can buy candy-flavored e-cigarettes. Image: Lindsay Fox/Flickr

    A coalition of lawmakers have set their sights on e-cigarettes and have, in a new report, asked the Food and Drug Administration to impose cigarette-like restrictions on them as soon as possible. 

    The report, commissioned by 12 Democratic lawmakers in September and released Monday, says that e-cig manufacturers are taking advantage of a loophole in regulatory law (and by loophole, they mean that there’s not a law yet) and are marketing their products to children for as long as they can before the FDA (or Congress) imposes some sort of rule on them.

    “E-cigarettes are an emerging, heavily marketed nicotine delivery product, and federal regulations have not kept pace with the increasing popularity of these products,” the report noted. “FDA should promptly issue deeming regulations asserting authority to regulate e-cigarettes.”

    Basically, traditional cigarette companies aren’t allowed to sell smokes to minors, aren’t allowed to market their products in “candy” flavored versions, can’t advertise on television and radio, can’t sponsor youth events, can’t sell them in vending machines (except in bars), can’t give out free samples, have to put warning messages on their packages, need FDA review of new products before they go out to market, and so on.

    Despite the fact that lots of vapers want the federal government to place at least some regulations on e-cigs, nothing has happened so far. E-cigarette companies aren’t required to comply with any of the rules that traditional tobacco companies are. And they’re certainly benefting from it. There are e-cigs called “Cherry Crush,” “Vivid Vanilla,” “Pineapple Luau,” and “Vanilla Mist.” There are e-cig commercials all over TV, marketing budgets have increased by as much as 300 percent at some companies, and vape companies have sponsored the iHeartRadio music festival, Coachella, the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, and all sorts of other events cigarette companies wouldn’t be let near.

    Congress doesn't like Facebook posts like this. Image: Facebook screengrab

    “All surveyed companies appear to use various marketing practices that appeal to youth,” the report noted. “FDA should issue regulations to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to any person under the age of 18 … FDA should ban and companies should cease marketing e-cigarettes in ways that are attractive to children and teens under the age of 18 … E-cigarette manufacturers should refrain from the use of television and radio advertisements … FDA should require strong, uniform labels to inform consumers of health risks and should prohibit misleading product claims.”

     It’s looking like e-cigarettes’ regulation-free honeymoon period is probably coming to an end; Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), one of the lawmakers who commissioned the report, said that the report “is further evidence that the administration must act quickly to regulate electronic cigarettes … Big Tobacco can create new products with a fresh new image, but its goal remains the same: to market addictive—and harmful—products to children.”

    The thing is, e-cigarette companies and traditional big tobacco aren't mutually exclusive things. Lorillard makes Blu, one of the most popular e-cigs, but they also sell Newport, Kent, and Maverick cigarettes. Altria sells Mark-Ten e-cigs, and Marlboro. R.J. Reynolds sells Vuse, but is also the second biggest cigarette company in the country. Those companies advertise their e-cigs in places where their more traditional products would never be allowed. Each of those companies told Congress that they support "some" federal e-cigarette regulation.

    Or Facebook games like this. Image: Facebook screengrab

    The FDA, for its part, has moved slowly on the issue. Three years ago, the agency said they were considering regulating e-cigs, but they haven’t done so yet, electing only to regulate the ones specifically marketed for therapeutic purposes (that is, those that are specifically marketed to help you quit smoking). Instead, the agency says it “intents to issue a proposed rule extending FDA’s tobacco product authorities beyond [cigarettes] to include other products like e-cigarettes.” 

    Currently 28 states ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, and some cities have put tobacco-like restrictions on e-cigarettes, but there have been no federal rules yet. With so much attention coming from Capitol Hill, plus recent studies that suggest e-cigarettes are getting kids hooked on traditional smokes, and the news that e-cigs might not be as harmless as they seem, you can expect that to change soon.