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E-cigarette companies targeting children, lawmakers say

By Lalita Clozel

Tribune Washington Bureau

LAST UPDATED: 6:34 p.m. HST, Apr 14, 2014

WASHINGTON » E-cigarette companies are preying on young consumers by using candy flavors, social-media ads and free samples at rock concerts, according to a report released Monday by Democratic legislators.

A survey of nine e-cigarette companies found that most were taking advantage of the lack of federal regulations to launch aggressive marketing campaigns that target minors with tactics that would be illegal if used for regular cigarettes, according to a report released by Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and signed by 10 other Democratic members of Congress.

According to the report, five of the surveyed companies more than doubled their marketing expenditures from 2012 to 2013, regularly promoting e-cigarettes on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Producers have come up with creative flavors, a practice that was banned for tobacco cigarettes by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009. E-cigarette flavor names include Pumpkin Spice, Chocolate Treat, Cherry Crush, and Snap.

E-cigarette companies have also sponsored popular events and distributed free samples at shows, including the Coachella Music Festival, the NASCAR tournament and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. They have employed popular celebrities to promote their products, including Courtney Love, Chris Brown and Sevyn Streeter. Brown and Streeter were featured in a music video that included a product placement of an e-cigarette.

"In the absence of federal regulation, some e-cigarette manufacturers appear to be using marketing tactics similar to those previously used by the tobacco industry to sell their products to minors," the report said.

According to a September 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of high school students that had tried e-cigarettes doubled from 2011 to 2012 to 10 percent.

Because e-cigarettes have not been deemed a tobacco product by the Food and Drug Administration, they are not constrained by federal regulations that prohibit sales to minors, television and radio advertisements, and free sampling, according to the report.

The FDA is considering labeling e-cigarettes as tobacco products, which would place them under the agency's authority.

"With over a million youth now using e-cigarettes, FDA needs to act without further delay to stop the companies from marketing their addictive products to children," Waxman said.

Twenty-eight states have banned e-cigarette sales to minors, and most of the surveyed companies said they prohibit vendors from selling their products to children.

But the survey found that policies varied company to company and only three out of eight had ever conducted compliance checks.

Several of the companies said they avoided running television advertisements that specifically targeted young audiences, but they nevertheless aired commercials during prime-time shows that rated well among children and teenagers, including the 2013 Super Bowl and the TV series "Breaking Bad," according to the report.

Six out of eight companies surveyed said they favored more regulation, specifically regarding sales to minors. One surveyed company, Lead by Sales, which produces White Cloud Cigarettes, did not respond to any of the questions.

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