Monday, July 06, 2015

U.S. Senator Lies About Tobacco Companies' Role in "Peddling" E-Cigarettes to Children

In a recent op-ed column printed in the Daily Record (Wooster, OH), U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) claims that the tobacco companies are peddling e-cigarettes to children, offering them flavors that include gummi bears, fruit loops, and sweet tarts. Further, he claims that the tobacco companies' goal in marketing e-cigarettes to kids is to get them hooked on tobacco. Finally, he claims that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking.

Senator Brown writes:

"Protecting our children from the dangers of tobacco products has always been a challenge—and now Big Tobacco has a new product it is actively peddling to children and teens. E-cigarettes are the new frontier in tobacco companies’ quest to get kids addicted while they are young. ... Now that they are no longer allowed to advertise traditional tobacco products to children, these tobacco companies are taking advantage of the new, unregulated world of e-cigarettes to advertise their products directly to kids. ... And they’re using new advertising platforms on social media to get to kids where parents often aren’t looking. E-cigarettes and their refill liquids come in thousands of different flavors, like gummi bears, sweet tarts, and fruit loops.  Gummi Bears?  Fruit Loops?  Sweet Tarts?  These are candies that young children – not just teens – receive at Halloween. The shameful e-cigarette marketing tactics employed by tobacco companies are aimed at encouraging a new generation to use tobacco. And as the CDC’s study shows – their tactics are working. It is past time for the FDA to regulate these dangerous products before more children and teens get hooked on e-cigarettes. ... E-cigarettes are still tobacco products. Right now they’re being used by the tobacco industry as a gateway cigarette for our children, and that has to stop."

The Rest of the Story

Actually, it's not so clear that the tobacco companies are peddling electronic cigarettes to children. If they were, how does Senator Brown explain why both of the U.S. tobacco companies that sell electronic cigarettes have employed age verification on the web sites for their products which prevents minors from gaining access to these sites? Despite the absence of any requirement that the companies limit access to their sites and despite the absence of any specific requirement that the companies achieve this using third-party age verification services, both of the U.S. tobacco companies have chosen to use third-party age verification, thus making it extremely difficult for minors to access their e-cigarette sites.

Moreover, blu has chosen not to make most of its flavored cigarettes available to minors as disposables. With just one exception, all of blu's potentially youth-enticing flavors are only available for the rechargeable devices, which come at a minimum price of $35.

What is undeniable is that Big Tobacco is not marketing e-cigarettes in the flavors gummi bears, fruit loops, or sweet tarts. None of these flavors are offered by any of the tobacco companies which produce electronic cigarettes. They are being marketed by independent cigarette companies, which obviously do not have any incentive to hook children on tobacco. If anything, they might potentially have an incentive to hook kids on e-cigarettes, but definitely not on tobacco. In fact, the value proposition for virtually every independent electronic cigarette company is to make smoking and tobacco use obsolete.

It is also untrue that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking. There is no evidence to support this contention, while a growing body of evidence supports the opposite: e-cigarettes appear to be a gateway away from cigarettes. If the tobacco companies truly wanted to addict more children to smoking, the last thing they would do is actively market flavored e-cigarettes, like sweet tarts-flavored e-cigs, to children. Why? Because once a kid gets used to vaping a sweet tarts flavor, it is going to be virtually impossible to entice that kid to switch to a Marlboro. With evidence that youth smoking rates are plummeting at the same time as e-cigarette experimentation among youth skyrockets, the tobacco companies have no incentive to hook kids on electronic cigarettes.

The marketing of electronic cigarettes is not designed to encourage a new generation of youth to use tobacco. At worst, this marketing may result in a generation of youth which heavily experiments with electronic cigarettes. But most likely, the end result if going to be a diversion away from smoking for many kids who might otherwise have chosen smoking as their method of nicotine inhalation.

I actually agree with Senator Brown's call for regulation of electronic cigarettes and for restrictions on the sale and marketing of these products to minors. However, why is it necessary to lie to the public in order to support the need for such regulations? I've been able to make a strong argument for such regulations while relying on the facts. There's no need to massively deceive the public.

Senator Brown lies again when he states that:

"the U.S. House of Representatives is moving forward with a plan to exempt most e-cigarettes already on the market from any oversight."

The House plan would grandfather existing e-cigarettes from the requirement to submit new product applications in order to stay on the market. However, the plan would not remove all oversight of these products. The products would still be subject to any other rules that the FDA sets for electronic cigarettes, include age of sale restrictions, marketing restrictions, childproof packaging requirements, and any other safety or quality control standards.

It continues to baffle me why electronic cigarette opponents need to lie to the public in order to support what in some cases are sensible restrictions on the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes and on the safety of these products. Why is the truth not enough?

The only explanation that makes sense to me is that the actual facts simply don't support the position of these e-cigarette opponents on the most critical issues, including the relative safety of e-cigarettes, the usefulness of these products for smoking cessation, and the lack of any evidence that e-cigarettes are a gateway to youth smoking.

It seems that not a day goes by without at least one example of an electronic cigarette opponent disseminating a lie to the public about e-cigarettes. The collective result of these actions is a national campaign of deception that is obscuring the public's understanding of the relative safety of e-cigarettes and undermining the public's appreciation of the severe hazards of smoking. Thus, this campaign of deception is not only unethical but it is actually damaging the public's health.

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