Twenty-nine state attorneys general on Friday urged the Food and Drug Administration to strengthen its proposed regulations on electronic cigarettes, a business that has exploded into a $2.5 billion industry with virtually no regulatory oversight.
Earlier this year, the FDA proposed federal restrictions on the products for the first time, including a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to people under 18, and a requirement for identification to verify a buyer’s age. In a letter sent Friday, the attorneys general supported these steps but said they did not go far enough.
“While the Proposed Rule addresses some of our concerns, it fails to address matters of particular concern, such as characterizing flavors, the marketing of e-cigarettes, and the sale of tobacco products over the Internet,” the letter said.
Among the restrictions called for in the letter, the attorneys general urged the federal government to prohibit the sale of most e-cigarette flavoring.
More than 7,000 flavors are available across the industry, including Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Graham Cracker. Public health officials say such flavors can be used to appeal to children.
In 2009, the FDA banned flavors from traditional cigarettes, like clove, chocolate and vanilla — menthol was exempt — in an effort to deter young people from picking up the habit.
The letter also urged restrictions on the advertising and marketing of e-cigarettes to bring the rules more in line with those that apply to traditional cigarette companies, which have had to adhere to tight restrictions for years.
“Each year, electronic cigarette companies spend millions of dollars advertising their product — often on prime-time television — glamorizing smoking in the same way combustible cigarettes did before those commercials were banned,” New York’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, one of the letter’s signatories, said in a statement. “And each year, more and more youth try electronic cigarettes, exposing themselves to the proven dangers of nicotine.”
At a committee hearing in June, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chastised several executives for marketing practices that senators said appealed to children, including the use of flavors.
“I’m ashamed of you,” Rockefeller said. “You’re what’s wrong with this country.”
Though still a small portion of the overall tobacco industry, e-cigarette sales have grown over the last few years even as the number of traditional smokers has declined. Recently, big tobacco companies, including Altria, which makes Marlboro, have introduced or announced e-cigarette initiatives of their own, moves that have the potential to greatly speed the industry’s growth.
Some public health experts have said that e-cigarettes appear to be a less dangerous alternative to traditional tobacco products, which are loaded with substances like tar that e-cigarettes do not have. (E-cigarettes contain nicotine dissolved in a liquid that becomes a vapor when heated, which the user inhales.)
But others say that too little is known about e-cigarettes to accurately assess their safety, and that they may hook more people — especially young people — onto nicotine than they help wean off standard cigarettes.