Congresswoman Jackie Speier

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E-cigs are a danger to young people

June 23, 2014
Op-Eds

San Francisco Chronicle
By Jackie Speier

June 23, 2014

Gummy bear, cotton candy, chocolate cake and thin mint sound like concoctions cooked up by a confectioner to satisfy the cravings of a child's sweet tooth.

Sadly, they are not.

Instead, these are the flavors of e-liquids available for electronic cigarettes, and our youth are vaping them up. The e-cigarette industry is booming. Its revenue has been increasing at a rate of nearly 115 percent a year since 2009 and last year soared to nearly $1.7 billion. As the industry spends more on marketing the product as a safe alternative to cigarettes, it is also relying on more teens and young adults for its sales.

In celebrity Stephen Dorff's Blu e-cigarettes television commercial, he proclaims that "we're all adults here." But aggressive marketing using cartoons and sponsorships at music festivals clearly targets our young people. A study from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that youth exposure to e-cigarette TV ads increased 256 percent from 2011 to 2013. And it's worked. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that between 2011 and 2012, e-cigarettes doubled in popularity among students in our middle and high schools. The report also reveals that 1 in 5 middle school students who have tried an e-cigarette have never even smoked a regular cigarette.

E-cigarettes are being marketed as a way for smokers to kick the habit, but there is little scientific evidence to support that claim. However, there is scientific evidence that exposure to e-liquids, either via ingestion or absorption, can cause seizures, arrhythmia, vomiting and even death. Lacking safeguards, e-cigarette poisonings are on the rise.

A woman in Kentucky was admitted to the hospital after her e-cigarette broke in bed and caused cardiac problems when the e-liquids were absorbed through her skin.

Many cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago and Boston have already recognized the public health hazard and have enacted laws that extend current restrictions on regular cigarettes to e-cigarettes.

But despite clear health concerns, the booming e-cigarette industry has flown under the radar of the federal government until recently. The Food and Drug Administration took an important first step proposing rules to regulate the devices, but they will literally take years to go into effect. Additionally, the guidelines do not go far enough.

That is why I am introducing the Stop Selling and Marketing to Our Kids E-Cigarettes Act, or Smoke Act.

The Smoke Act will extend the same FDA regulation of tobacco products to electronic cigarettes and also address the gaps in FDA's proposed rule-making. It will also regulate electronic cigars, cigarillos, pipes and hookahs, and their e-liquids. Specifically, the Smoke Act will also address the following areas:

-- Restrict marketing and advertising via the FDA by applying the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act to electronic tobacco products;

-- Establish dosage limits to prevent harm from accidental ingestion or absorption.

-- Establish concentration level limits and labeling requirements.

-- Prohibit the use of flavorings in electronic tobacco products.

-- Establish childproof packaging standards because just 1 teaspoon of e-liquid can kill a small child.

-- Give the Federal Trade Commission authority to prohibit the advertising, promotion, and marketing of electronic tobacco products and e-liquids to children.

All the progress made to help smokers kick the habit will go up in smoke unless we rein in e-cigarettes.

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