WASHINGTON, D.C. — This week, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) met with Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to urge the agency to do everything in its power to expand its oversight of Big Tobacco in order to protect consumers from the dangers of electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) and ensure they aren’t being marketed to children. Brown’s efforts follow a shocking report from The New York Times that details the potential harms of e-liquids (liquid nicotine), the main ingredient in e-cigs which is not yet regulated by the federal government, despite a dramatic 300 percent increase in accidental poisonings.
“The Administration must act promptly because Americans and especially children are being harmed by an unsafe and unregulated product,” Brown said. “Big Tobacco will stop at nothing to replace the 480,000 customers it loses each year to tobacco-related deaths. The FDA must do everything it can to ensure the regulation of electronic cigarettes and their components. Decisive action could prevent them from being marketed to children, prevent new addictions to nicotine, make Americans safer from accidental poisonings, and potentially save lives.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the proliferation of e-cig use—and the toxicity of e-liquids—has led to a dramatic increase in calls to poison control centers, from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014. The Times article highlighted the dangers of e-liquids, which can cause vomiting, seizures, or even death when ingested or absorbed through the skin. According to research published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Cardiovascular Disease, liquid nicotine is quickly absorbed and even tiny amounts can be lethal—especially to children. Making matters worse is the appeal of e-liquids to children due the use of fruit flavors and bright colors.
In 2009, Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gave the FDA the direct authority to regulate cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. The law also gave the FDA the ability to oversee all tobacco products, like e-cigs, pending a review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Brown urged Hamburg to push the Administration to expedite OMB’s review of “deeming” regulations, which would allow the FDA to potentially make e-cigs less toxic and combat their marketing to children.
Nicotine is a powerful stimulant that is extracted from tobacco and mixed with a variety of flavors, colors, and other chemicals to create e-liquids, which are then loaded into e-cigs to be vaporized and inhaled by the user. E-cigs, however, are not yet subject to federal laws that apply to traditional cigarettes, such as prohibiting their sale to minors, banning ads on the television and radio, and disallowing the use of fruit flavors that appeal to kids. In fact, e-cig makers have utilized each of these tactics as well as the use of celebrity sponsors to glamorize their products. Unchecked by regulation, e-cig use has doubled among middle and high school children in just the last year according to a recent report by the CDC. The CDC study also suggests that e-cigs are a gateway to traditional smoking, citing that more than 76 percent of children who used e-cigs also smoked conventional cigarettes within 30 days.
Brown has worked to reduce the negative effects of tobacco use for Ohioans, including pressing the FDA and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to regulate tobacco products to the full extent of their powers, such as the use of graphic warning labels, finalizing their regulatory powers over tobacco products, and ensuring that all tobacco products are properly taxed and controlled. Earlier this week, Brown followed up on a December letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and FDA, urging the agencies to take enforcement action against e-cig manufacturers who make unsubstantiated or false claims in their advertising, including unproven assertions that their products help smokers of conventional cigarettes quit.