In 2011 the FDA announced its intention to expand the definition of tobacco products to include e-cigarettes, a distinction that would make e-cigarettes subject to all federal regulations currently enforced on tobacco. In 2013, 40 state Attorneys General urged the FDA to regulate e-cigarettes, but to date regulations are still absent for the product. The most recent development for e-cigarette regulation is a congressional report entitled “Gateway to Addiction? A Survey of Popular Electronic Cigarette Manufacturers and Targeted Marketing to Youth.”
The report, released earlier this month, was the response of an inquiry into the marketing practices of e-cigarette companies by Senator Richard Durbin (D, IL) and other members of congress. The inquiry found that all companies surveyed take part in promotional activities like sponsorship or free samples at youth-oriented events, and television and radio advertisements that tend to appeal to youth. The report surveyed 9 e-cigarette manufacturers (Altria, R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company, Eonsmoke, LOGIC, VMR, Lorillard, Green Smoke, Lead by Sales) and 10 brands (Mark-Ten, Vuse, NJOY King, Eonsmoke, LOGIC, V2, Vapor Couture, Blu, Green Smoke, White Cloud Cigarettes).
Beyond the youth-oriented marketing of e-cigarette companies, other key findings include:
- Six of the e-cigarette companies market e-cigarettes in flavors that could appeal to children and teens, flavors like Cherry Crush, Chocolate Treat, Peachy Keen, and Grape Mint.
- Children and teenagers can purchase e-cigarettes in stores and online.
- E-cigarette companies extensively use social media and product websites to promote their products.
Specifically pertaining to the point-of-sale (POS), the report mentions the wide variation in industry POS practices and calls for the FDA to step up and regulate the product. As e-cigarettes are currently subject to none of the federal regulations required for their traditional cigarette counterparts, all regulation decisions are currently the choice of individual companies, States and communities. Regulating these products at the POS has the potential to reduce youth uptake not only of e-cigarettes, but also of traditional tobacco product as e-cigarettes may serve as a gateway for some youth. Both reductions in (1) uptake of e-cigarettes and (2) tobacco products have the potential to reduce death and disability caused by tobacco use. Restrictions at the POS, both online and in stores, have great regulatory potential to alleviate harm for youth, as POS policies limit access to the product.