NEW YORK - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, together with the attorneys general of Illinois, Indiana and Massachusetts, co-sponsored a letter submitted to the Food and Drug Administration recently that was signed by 29 state attorneys general. The letter urges the FDA to strengthen its proposed regulation of electronic cigarettes - or e-cigarettes - with the goal of protecting young people from the harms of nicotine addiction. Among other recommendations, the attorneys general pressed the FDA to prohibit flavors in e-cigarettes, and to restrict advertising and marketing for e-cigarettes in the same manner as for cigarettes.
"E-cigarettes have all the addictive qualities of regular, combustible cigarettes, yet they are completely unregulated by the FDA," Schneiderman said. "While we applaud the FDA's proposal to start regulating these tobacco products, it falls far short of what is needed to protect our youth. Each year, electronic cigarette companies spend millions of dollars advertising their product - often on prime-time television - glamorizing smoking in the same way combustible cigarettes did before those commercials were banned. And each year, more and more youth try electronic cigarettes, exposing themselves to the proven dangers of nicotine."
E-cigarettes contain no tobacco but do contain nicotine generally derived from tobacco. The nicotine is dissolved in a liquid that, when heated, forms a vapor that is inhaled, delivering nicotine to the lungs. While some claim that e-cigarettes may have the potential to help smokers quit using combustible cigarettes, the FDA has not approved them as smoking-cessation devices. Furthermore, the public health implications of these new products are still being researched and there remain concerns that they will be attractive to youth and cause teens to become addicted to nicotine and ultimately to start using cancer-causing combustible products that do contain tobacco. In 2013, e-cigarette advertisements on television reached over 14 million teens, and magazine advertisements reached 9.5 million teens. In just one year, the five largest e-cigarette companies increased their marketing expenditures by 164 percent.
E-cigarettes are a significant and growing part of the cigarette market. Of greatest concern is research showing an "exponential" increase in e-cigarette use among young people. According to Schneiderman's report, nicotine exposure during adolescence adversely affects cognitive function and development, potentially resulting in lasting deficits.
In April, the FDA issued proposed regulations deeming e-cigarettes "tobacco products," which puts them under the FDA's regulatory jurisdiction under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, as amended by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Though the FDA's proposed regulations represent a step in the right direction, the attorneys general argue that they do not go nearly far enough to protect young people from the potential harms of e-cigarettes. Over 7,000 flavors are available for electronic cigarettes, and more are introduced each month.
Over 35 years ago, tobacco companies recognized that flavored cigarettes were for "young people" and "teenagers," and, consequently, the FDA banned flavored cigarettes.
"Today, we urge the FDA to do the right thing and protect our youth from yet another tobacco epidemic," the letter continues. "We don't need these e-cigarettes aimed at our youth. What we need are strong FDA regulations that protect the public health and protect our youth from a lifetime of nicotine addiction. The FDA should ban all flavored electronic cigarettes and should prohibit e-cigarette advertising on television, radio and youth-oriented magazines."
In their comments, the states urged the FDA to do more to protect children from the harmful consequences of nicotine. In particular, they called for the FDA to:
Prohibit flavors other than tobacco and menthol in e-cigarettes and other tobacco products;
Restrict the advertising, marketing, and promotion of e-cigarettes in the same ways it has restricted the advertising, marketing, and promotion of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, as well as strengthening and updating those restrictions;
Strengthen the health warnings for the deemed tobacco products;
Restrict the advertising, promotion, and sale of all tobacco products over the Internet;
Define e-cigarette components and parts and apply the proposed restrictions on age verification, vending machine sales, and health warnings regardless of whether such components and parts contain nicotine;
Include "premium" cigars in the deeming rule; and
Regulate pipe tobacco to prevent avoidance of regulations applicable to tobacco that is actually used as roll-your-own tobacco.