The time is now to finalize the tobacco and nicotine regulations

The time is now to finalize the tobacco and nicotine regulations


By:  Senators Jeff Merkley and Richard Blumenthal

Two years ago today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a proposed blueprint for regulating e-cigarettes.

The release of the proposed rule was an important step forward in achieving comprehensive regulation of new tobacco products including e-cigarettes, which are sold today with virtually zero regulation.  The Administration assured us that the final rule would be out by the end of summer 2015.  Yet, today, we are still waiting.

In total, it’s been seven years since Congress passed the legislation giving the FDA the authority to regulate these products. These unacceptable delays have had tremendous consequences. In the last seven years, tobacco and e-cigarette companies have had time to develop new, innovative products to attract and ultimately addict America’s youth. The failure to regulate e-cigarette products means more and more children are being introduced to a lifetime of nicotine addiction.

We know tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, imposing a terrible toll in health, lives and dollars, on families, businesses and government. The best way to save lives in the future is to prevent young Americans from becoming addicted to tobacco products now. According to a Surgeon General’s report released in March 2012, tobacco use among youth remains a “pediatric epidemic.”

In recent years, the use of e-cigarettes by minors has skyrocketed. In just one recent year, from 2013 to 2014, e-cigarette use among high schoolers tripled. An updated CDC study released earlier this month confirmed that youth tobacco use is continuing to grow.

This comes as no surprise to e-cigarette manufacturers. In fact, it’s a sign that their investment in using the same marketing tactics that cigarette companies used for decades to market to children has paid off. E-cigarette makers are dedicating extensive resources to reaching young people through sponsorship of youth-oriented events, and television and radio advertisements targeted to young Americans, practices that are illegal for traditional cigarettes.

Teenagers in our states are under the dangerously false perception that these nicotine delivery devices are safe. This industry is capitalizing on an unregulated market. They see opportunities to appeal to kids more directly, to market to kids more easily, and to sell to kids with few restrictions.

E-cigarettes are sold in colorful packaging, and come in thousands of different flavors, including candy and fruit flavoring. When an e-cigarette company puts out “Gummy Bear” or “Scooby Snacks” flavored liquid nicotine, it’s obvious to anyone that adults are not their intended market. We highly doubt it is happenstance that these kid-friendly flavorings and associated marketing tactics have coincided with a significant increase in the use of e-cigarettes by American youth.

It is inexplicable that an administration committed to promoting public health in many ways is complicit—through its inaction—in the successful strategy of e-cigarette manufacturers to target our children. The absence of FDA regulation gives America’s youth the impression that these products are safe to use. It’s time for this irresponsible inaction to come to an end. There can be no more delays. There can be no more excuses.

Once the rule is final, FDA will be able to regulate new tobacco and nicotine products in important ways. These include imposing minimum age standards, limits on advertising, and health warnings on the products; requiring the registration of tobacco product manufacturers with FDA; mandating FDA approval of some novel products; and requiring child-proof packaging, which will save countless young children from accidental nicotine poisoning. The FDA should also take this opportunity to directly address the e-cigarette industry’s strategy of ensnaring children, by banning candy and fruit flavors in e-cigarettes just as they have in traditional cigarettes.

We cannot stand idly by. Every day that the FDA does not finalize the tobacco and nicotine regulations is another day of dangerous complacency that threatens our kids, and our public health, for decades to come. We urge the Administration to take swift and immediate action to finalize this critical regulation.