Trio of democratic lawmakers charge e-cigarettes with advertising to youth

E Cigarette Flashbacks

In its heyday, cigarettes were one of the biggest advertising categories. That&#39 s just what a growing number of policymakers fear will happen with electronic cigarettes.

Hoping to convince the Food and Drug Administration to regulate e cigs, three Democratic lawmakers put together a presentation to make the case that e cigarette companies are targeting young smokers the same way traditional cigarette companies did before they were banned from the airwaves in 1971.

The FDA could make a decision about classifying e cigarettes soon. Some states have already gone ahead and passed regulations. Utah, N.D., Arkansas, N.J., and Washington, D.C. banned e cigarettes indoors, and many other states are considering regulations. California bans e cigarette ads online.

There&#39 s a lot that isn&#39 t known about e cigarettes (even the FDA says the safety and efficacy of e cigarettes have not been fully studies), but a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set off alarm bells among a number of policymakers. It found that the use of e cigarettes by youth doubled between 2011 and 2012 as advertising more than doubled from $7.2 million to $20.8 million.

Using a side by side presentation showing cigarette ads then and now, Reps. Henry Waxman (Calif.), Diana DeGette (Co.), and Frank Pallone, Jr. (N.J.) charge that the $2 billion industry is taking advantage of the absence of regulation to market to young smokers. They «appear to be using exactly the same advertising and promotional techniques that were used for decades for cigarette manufacturers to hook teenagers on their products,» the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D.

The letter and «flashbacks» presentation was delivered Monday the same day the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association (Sfta) was on the Hill to talk with policymakers about the industry&#39 s unique legislative needs, its contribution to the U.S. economy, and why it should not be classified as a tobacco product.

Because e cigarettes are not defined as a tobacco product, they are exempt from the regulations established under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Act.

Ad creatives there are only so many ways to pitch the smoking experience. So it should come as no surprise that Democrats could find eerily common themes between the traditional cigarette ads of the 50s and 60s, and the e cig ads of today.

For example, «tough guys» Lee Marvin for Pall Mall and Stephen Dorff for Blu E Cigarettes. For a little sex appeal, compare Eva Gabor for Camels and Jenny McCarthy for Blu E Cigarettes.

The Democrats have tracked e cigarette ads running during the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, and on ESPN, reaching a general audience of 10 million, «many of them children, teens or young adults,» the lawmakers wrote.

In print, ads are running in magazines such as Rolling Stone, a publication that has a broad demographic readership and was once a mainstay of tobacco advertising.

There is even a cartoon counterpart to R.J. Reynolds&#39 Joe Camel. Blu&#39 s website (which is restricted to 18 years and older) has «Mr. Cool» and and Magic Puff City E cigarettes like to use cartoon monkeys to sell their products.

E Cigarette companies are also sponsoring sporting events and athletes, like NASCAR (also a traditional cigarette staple), music festivals like Bonnaroo. NJOY e cigarettes was an official sponsor of New York and London fashion weeks.

More evidence e-cigarettes may help in quitting tobacco

Electronic cigarette users followed over a year reduced or quit using tobacco cigarettes in large numbers and were less prone to resume smoking, at least in the short term.

Experts continue to debate whether or not «e cigs» are smoking cessation tools or just leisure products. The electronic vaporizers use cartridges of liquid nicotine to deliver a flavored nicotine laced vapor without the byproducts of burning tobacco in traditional cigarettes.

«Our results may not be generalizable to all vapers,» Jean Francois Etter said, using the slang for vaporizer users. «We had a majority of ex smokers at baseline whereas in the general population, most vapers are current smokers,» he told Reuters Health.

Etter led the study at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. The results were published in Addictive Behaviors.

A few small studies have found that e cigarettes seemed to help smokers quit using tobacco or at least to smoke fewer traditional cigarettes. But there have been no long term studies of how people actually use e cigarettes, so experts are still unsure.

The researchers posted a questionnaire on a French stop smoking website and asked sites selling e cigs to link to the questionnaire. Most «vapers» buy their e cigs online.

The e cig users recruited answered a baseline questionnaire, another one a month later and a third one year later. Questions covered e cigarette use, tobacco use and the date of quitting tobacco, if one applied.

Of more than 1000 original recruits, 367 responded to all three surveys.

For those who had quit smoking already and were using e cigarettes instead, six percent had relapsed to tobacco after one month. That number was stable after one year.

Of those who were smoking and using e cigarettes when the study began, 22 percent had quit smoking tobacco after a month and 46 percent had quit after a year. That group averaged 11.3 tobacco cigarettes daily at the beginning of the study and six cigarettes per day after one month.

This was just an exploratory study and will need confirmation from follow up studies, Etter said.

«This suggests that e cigs may help them quit, but our results need to be interpreted with caution, because of the dropout rate at follow up and the fact that our sample is not representative of all vapers,» he said.

In the short term, e cigs appear not to carry any health risks of their own, he said. But researchers still don’t know the long term health effects of inhaling the common solvent glycol and food flavoring over many years.

E cigarettes don’t need to be 100 percent safe, he said, they only need to be significantly safer than tobacco cigarettes because they are primarily used by cigarette smokers. Of the three studies that have investigated e cig users, none of the daily vapers were non smokers.

Even though the evidence is still thin, Etter believes smokers should use e cigarettes as quit smoking aids, and doctors should recommend them. But the products should not be treated as medical devices or drugs, even though they may have therapeutic benefit for patients, he said.

«Internet surveys are more likely to attract people who had a positive experience with e cigarettes,» professor Peter Hajek said. «The study is nevertheless innovative in that it did not just ask for a one off information as a number of previous studies did, but it followed the e cigarette users up to see what happens to their e cig use and to their smoking one year later,» he said.

Hajek is director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry in London, UK. He was not involved in this study.

The new study adds to the evidence that e cigarettes can help smokers quit or cut down, he said.

«There are two products competing for smokers’ business,» Hajek said. «One kills half the users, the other one is at least an order of magnitude safer,» he said. «It makes little sense to try to cripple the safer one so the deadly one maintains the market monopoly.»