Monday, June 23, 2014

How Do Senator Jay Rockefeller and his Commerce Committee Colleagues (Barbara Boxer and Richard Blumenthal) Sleep at Night?

Last Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology held a hearing on the marketing of electronic cigarettes. Several senators, including Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) harshly attacked the two electronic cigarette company executives who testified before the committee, calling them liars who are doing harm to the public and comparing them to the Big Tobacco executives of the past.

According to an article at "In a hearing Wednesday afternoon that harkened back to the famous congressional Big Tobacco hearings two decades ago, Senators on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee eviscerated electronic cigarette executives Jason Healy, CEO of blu eCigs (owned by tobacco company Lorillard), and Craig Weiss, CEO of NJOY, leaders of the two leading e-cig brands."

The harshest questioning came from Senators Richard Blumenthal, Barbara Boxer, and Jay Rockefeller:

"I think we have seen this movie before," Senator Richard Blumenthal said. "It is called big nicotine comes to children near you and you are using the same kinds of tactics and promotions and ads that were used by big tobacco and proved so effective." ...

"At the end of her time to question, Boxer said: “Mr. Healy and Mr. Weiss, you can con yourself. But we don’t know if this product gets people off cigarettes yet, so don’t think you are doing some great mission. Don’t say you care about kids,” said Senator Boxer. “Don’t be a part of this, because you’ll regret it.”"

"But the harshest words came from Senator Jay Rockefeller (D- West Virginia), who said to the executives: “I’m ashamed of you. I don’t know how you go to sleep at night. I don’t know what gets you to work in the morning except the color green of dollars. You are what is wrong with this country.”"

The Rest of the Story

Actually, it is the behavior of Senator Rockefeller that is what is wrong with this country. And it is Senator Rockefeller who should not be able to sleep at night.

There is a part of this story that was not revealed at the hearing, and it is time to reveal it now at the Rest of the Story.

While Senator Rockefeller attacks the electronic cigarette companies for targeting kids with flavored products that he claims is going to addict and harm them, he is hiding from the public the truth:

1. There are, in fact, thousands of kids who are becoming addicted to flavored nicotine products which are going to eventually kill them. 

2. Those products are not electronic (fake) cigarettes.

3. Those products are real tobacco cigarettes.

4. Those products are menthol-flavored cigarettes.

5. In 2009, Senator Rockefeller sponsored and supported legislation that protected menthol cigarettes by exempting them from the flavored cigarette ban in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

Thus, the rest of the story is that Senator Rockefeller protected Big Tobacco and helped them to continue to see the color green of dollars by voting to exempt menthol cigarettes from legislation that banned every other flavor. In other words, he sold out to Philip Morris, agreeing to this exemption that would allow Big Tobacco to continue to addict America's children with flavored cigarettes. Nearly 50% of youth smokers in the U.S. become addicted to smoking via menthol cigarettes.

The bottom line is that Senator Rockefeller is a typical politician and a classical hypocrite. He is also completely disingenuous. Were he truly committed to protecting kids from addiction to flavored tobacco products, he would never have sold out to Philip Morris by sponsoring and supporting legislation that exempted menthol from the cigarette flavoring ban. Even now, if he truly cared about the actual health of children, instead of attacking the e-cigarette industry, he would have devoted his time and energy to crafting and sponsoring legislation to ban menthol from cigarettes.

The truth is that Senator Rockefeller pretended to be committed to protecting the health of our nation's children, but instead, he was actually protecting Big Tobacco profits by exempting menthol from the flavoring ban. The Tobacco Act banned every imaginable flavor that was not actually being used in cigarettes (e.g., cherry, strawberry, banana, and pineaple), yet it exempted the one flavor (menthol) that was actually being used to addict children to a lifetime of smoking - a greatly shortened lifetime for many of them.

This is actually what is wrong with our country: politicians who pretend to be acting in the public's interest but who are actually acting in interest of our nation's largest and most profitable corporations.

And it is not the CEOs of Blu or NJOY who shouldn't be able to sleep at night, it is Senator Rockefeller. How can he sleep each night, knowing that his actions are responsible for thousands of kids who, in the past four years, have become addicted to menthol cigarettes because he failed to act responsibly and are eventually going to die prematurely because of his sellout to Philip Morris?

Senator Boxer also has no business excoriating the e-cigarette executives as she, too, sold out to Big Tobacco by supporting the legislation which exempted menthol from the cigarette flavoring ban. And she, too, has failed to sponsor legislation - now or any time in the past four years - that would correct the problem now by banning menthol cigarettes.

Senator Blumenthal is also a phony and a hypocrite as he, too, has failed to sponsor legislation to ban menthol cigarettes (he was not a Senator in 2009 so did not vote for the original menthol exemption).

Beyond the blatant hypocrisy of Senators Rockefeller, Boxer, and Blumenthal, they are also wrong in their assertion that blu and NJOY are heavily marketing their products to kids. In fact, the evidence suggests otherwise.

The most telling point is that blu does not offer its disposable products in flavors other than tobacco (classic) or menthol. Note that the disposable products are the ones that are relevant to children because they are the cheapest and most likely to be used by kids. It is very unlikely that kids are going to unleash the money required to purchase the charging kit. Blu offers rechargeable starter kits that do contain flavorings, but does not offer the disposables in flavors other than tobacco or menthol. Kids would have to shell out a minimum of $70 for the starter kit.

Here are the available electronic cigarette flavors offered by blu:

a. Classic tobacco
b. Menthol

a. Classic tobacco
b. Menthol
c. Java jolt
d. Cherry crush
e. Vanilla
f. Pina colada
g. Peach schnapps

In contrast to Senator Rockefeller's assertion, blu is actively avoiding the marketing of candy-flavored electronic cigarettes to children, as it is not offering candy-flavored disposable electronic cigarettes. This is perhaps the clearest signal that blu is not marketing flavors to children. It should be obvious to the senators, if if they put any thought into the issue, that the best way to judge blu's intentions is to examine the differences between their starter kit flavors (the ones which require you to shell out 70 bucks) and their disposable flavors (the ones which kids are most likely to use). In fact, while the starter kit flavors do include candy varieties, the disposables do not. This is a clear sign that Lorillard is not interested in offering candy-flavored electronic cigarettes to the youth market.

In fact, Blu was already offering these candy-flavored varieties prior to its acquisition by Lorillard. It is understandable while Lorillard maintained these flavors, since it wouldn't want to lose existing Blu customers. But it is telling that Lorillard chose not to extend this candy-flavored approach over to its disposable e-cigarette segment. If the senators' assertion was correct, then Lorillard would most certainly be selling candy-flavored disposable electronic cigarettes.

Similarly, NJOY does not appear to be marketing to kids. The most telling point is that in its internet sales, the company does not sell flavored e-cigarettes (only traditional tobacco and menthol). And of course, if NJOY were after kids, it would certainly offer the flavored varieties online, since kids are more easily able to obtain these products online, where age verification is not required, than in-store, where it is.

The truth, in fact, is that NJOY's explicit value proposition is that it is trying to eviscerate the combustible cigarette market. While NJOY has the courage and values to stand up and work for the decimation of combustible cigarettes, that is something which Senators Rockefeller, Boxer, and Blumenthal do not have the fortitude to do. Instead, they have supported the institutionalization and protection of the tobacco cigarette market and are doing everything they can to protect real cigarettes from potential competition from far safer, fake ones.

How can they sleep at night?

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