WASHINGTON (CNN) — Redeploying a major argument from the battle over traditional cigarettes, a dozen Democratic members of Congress released a report on Monday concluding that electronic cigarettes “aggressively (promote) their products by using techniques and venues that appeal to youth” and should be strictly regulated like the non-electronic versions.
“E-cigarette manufactures don’t have to play by the same rules (as traditional cigarette makers),” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, one of the leaders behind the investigation.
“E-cigarette makers are free to sponsor youth-oriented events and produce flavors that appeal to kids. And that is exactly what’s happening,” Waxman told reporters on a conference call.
Currently, e-cigarette companies face no federal limits on how they can advertise or market their products. Twenty-eight states restrict the age of purchase for e-cigarettes and a few companies have self-imposed limits, but otherwise the marketplace is wide open.
With this report, the 12 Democrats involved are trying to build pressure on the Food & Drug Administration to “deem” that e-cigarettes be regulated like conventional smokes and therefore face the same strict limits on advertising and sales.
To make the case for tougher regulation, the Congressional report listed several e-cigarette marketing approaches:
Companies offer dozens of sweet flavored e-cigarettes, including tastes like “Iced Berry” and “Peachy Keen,” which the lawmakers say appeal to children.
Celebrities who appeal to young people, including singer Chris Brown and actor Robert Pattison, have been paid to be seen with the devices.
E-cigarette makers have either sponsored or given away their product at hundreds of kid-friendly events, including baseball games and one day at a Six Flags amusement park. Though, scanning the list, the majority of events cited in the report seemed to be at bars, large concerts and music festivals, which may be geared toward adults.
The evidence was enough for the lawmakers.
“(This report) makes it clear the e-cigarette companies… have made a determined effort… to lure children into this nicotine addiction,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, the other leading sponsor of the report.
“It’s time for the FDA to step up.”
Durbin also cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control showing a rise in e-cigarette use, from 4.7% of all high school students in 2012 to 10% in 2013.
In a sign of how the landscape has changed, some in the e-cigarette industry agree.
“We agree with a number of the reports regulations,” said David Sylvia, spokesman for Altria, which owns Philip Morris and sells the MarkTen e-cigarette, “including the FDA asserting regulatory authority over these products and all other tobacco products not yet regulated by the agency.”
Sylvia stresses that the company wants an age limit on e-cigarette sales and does not advertise on TV now.
While company wants the FDA to regulate its product, it differs on the scope of the new rules, arguing that e-cigarettes should not fall under the same rules as traditional smokes.
“It’s important that they consider e-cigarettes as e-cigarettes, not just take the regulations for convention cigarettes and put them on top of it,” Sylvia said.
The e-cigarette regulation question comes in the midst of an open debate over whether the products help smokers move away from traditional cigarettes, which contain different combinations of chemicals, or if the electronic devices encourage nicotine addiction and are a gateway to other cigarettes.
Research on the devices so far has been limited.
It is not clear when the FDA will announce a decision on e-cigarette regulation.
The 12 Democrats backing Monday’s report were Durbin, Waxman, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia.