USA Today published an interesting editorial this week on how to stop the explosion of e-cig use by teenagers.
The editorial first brings up a shocking statistic (shocking to me, at least) — that the percentage of kids under 18 who have used e-cigs (17 percent) is now higher than the percentage of kids who have smoked cigarettes (14 percent). Wow, I’m sure that number has been out there, but I never noticed it before.
The rate of teen smoking has nosedived in the past two or three years, in some states dropping below 10 percent. There’s your biggest reason why, unfortunately.
E-cigs might have some value for helping some people quit cigarettes when everything else has failed. However, they are being used as a substitute for cigarettes by too many kids — not people trying to quit a 20-year habit.
The Food and Drug Administration has proposed a series of rules for e-cigs (since e-cigs contain nicotine, the FDA has regulatory authority). One rule is fine — banning e-cig sales to minors under 18. However, the agency noticeably failed to propose any control over how e-cigs are marketed, even though the federal government does have the power to control the marketing of cigarettes (through both the Federal Trade Commission and the FDA.).
E-cig companies, the biggest of which (Blu) is now a wholly owned subsidiary of RJ Reynolds, have been brazenly aggressive in marketing e-cigs as cool, hip and sexy, deploying the exact same marketing techniques used by Big Tobacco for decades to make cigarettes appear alluring to teens.
From the USA Today editorial:
For manufacturers, the logic is inescapable: Addict a teenager and you could have a customer for life; miss the moment and you have no customer at all. So in ways subtle and not so subtle, e-cigarette makers have applied Big Tobacco’s advertising and marketing practices.
One prominent tactic is their use of celebrities — including former Playboy centerfold Jenny McCarthy, singer Courtney Love, actor Stephen Dorff and teen heartthrob Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame — to make “vaping” look sexy and rebellious.
USA Today acknowledges that with a very conservative Congress being sworn in in January 2015, that could tie the FDA’s hands somewhat in developing new regulations for e-cigs. So, as an alternative, it proposes that state attorneys general use the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with Big Tobacco to clamp down on e-cig advertising.
From USA Today:
Alternatively, states could fill the breach. Nearly a dozen still allow e-cigarette sales to minors when they plainly should not. They could also use the 1998 tobacco settlement negotiated with the industry long before e-cigarettes existed. The accord defines covered products in a way that includes e-cigarettes, because nicotine is derived from tobacco.
By invoking the settlement, state attorneys general would be able to clamp down on marketing that’s targeted at youth, including certain celebrity promotions, concert sponsorships and access to free samples.
After a decades-long battle against youth smoking, it would be tragic to see a new generation of teens hooked on a different but potentially dangerous substitute.
I have no idea if such a tactic would work, but I personally think something needs to be done to crack down on these commercials and stem the tide of the explosion of e-cig use among kids. I think the FDA is wimping out here — screw Congress, the FDA is part of the Executive branch, they don’t answer to Ted Cruz, they answer to Obama.
Whatever it takes to tackle this problem head-on.