Senate Democrats turned their sights to the electronic cigarette market this week, calling on the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the industry's marketing of the popular devices to children, tactics they say are straight out of Big Tobacco's playbook.
In April, the FDA proposed a series of regulations for e-cigarettes, including prohibiting sales to minors, prohibiting vending machine sales and samples, and requiring a list of product ingredients.
But the Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, want the agency to go further by also applying the restrictions imposed on traditional tobacco products to limit youth access to e-cigarettes. That includes a ban on marketing to children, on the use of fruit- and candy-based flavors, and on online sales.
"E-cigarette companies are employing the same tactics used by Big Tobacco decades ago: showcasing glamorous celebrities, creating cool cartoons, and pushing their brands through sexy television and print advertisements," the 13 Democrats wrote to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. "While FDA's proposed rule sets the stage for future regulations, strong regulatory actions on marketing to children, e-cigarette flavors, and online sales cannot wait."
A 2008 law already prohibits companies from marketing new tobacco products without FDA authorization and allows the agency to place restrictions on the sale and marketing of new tobacco products. The letter asks the FDA to use this existing authority.
The request comes after many of the same Senate Democrats released a report that showed a significant increase in the marketing of e-cigarettes, with a majority of resources funneled to social media, sponsorship of youth-oriented events, and television and radio advertisements aimed at youth audiences.
My colleague, Evie Blad, blogged about the report over at Rules for Engagement, and has been following the e-cigarette trend pretty closely. And Education Week has a great background story on the increasingly popular devices this week. (Side comment: If you haven't checked out Blad's often hilarious Friday round-up of school climate coverage each week, I highly recommend it.)
The comment period on the FDA's proposed regulations came to a close last month, and Senate Democrats urged Hamburg to finalize and implement its regulations within a year of announcing the agency's final decision.