Sen. Brown Urges Obama Administration to Expand Oversight of Big Tobacco to Combat its Latest Efforts to Weaken Anti-Smoking Laws, Market Electronic Cigarettes to Children

One in Every Five Ohio Deaths Caused by Tobacco Use; Tobacco on Track to Kill One Billion People Worldwide this Century

WASHINGTON, DC – This week, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) called on the Obama Administration to expand its oversight of Big Tobacco in order to combat its latest efforts to circumvent tobacco control initiatives and market electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) to children. Specifically, Brown urged President Obama to expedite the bureaucratic process that has kept the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from regulating products like e-cigs; and urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to monitor Big Tobacco’s marketing strategy of e-cigs.

“Our efforts to stop the number one preventable cause of death in the world are again being undermined by Big Tobacco,” Brown said. “In order to replace the more than 400,000 customers it loses each year to tobacco related deaths, Big Tobacco has fought to weaken anti-tobacco laws and market new products to children. The Administration should do the right thing for the health of the country by exercising its full power to put a stop to Big Tobacco’s crashing through loopholes in trade policy and FDA regulation. America must be a leader in global and domestic public health efforts and stop the insidious creep of addiction, lung cancer, coronary disease, and respiratory harm caused by tobacco and nicotine.”

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). In a letter, Brown urged President Obama to expedite OMB’s review of “deeming” regulations, which would allow the FDA to fight Big Tobacco’s efforts to target children and addict them to tobacco products.    

In a separate letter, Brown urged the FTC to include e-cig companies in its annual marketing report that outlines how much and where cigarette companies spend their advertising dollars; and investigate makers of e-cigs that make potentially false, misleading, or deceptive advertising claims that their product is therapeutic.

E-cigs use addictive nicotine but are not yet subject to federal laws that apply to traditional cigarettes. The laws include 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. As a result, e-cig use has doubled among middle and high school children in just the last year according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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.

According to the Ohio Department of Public Health:

  • One in every five Ohio deaths is caused by tobacco use;
  • Ohio ranks sixth in adult smoking rates;
  • 16,900 children under the age of 18 start smoking each year in Ohio;
  • Approximately 386,000 Ohioans are currently suffering from one or more chronic or acute diseases as the result of cigarette smoking;
  • The medical costs associated with tobacco use by Ohioans are approximately $4 billion per year, of which $1.3 billion is covered by the Ohio Medicaid program; and
  • Ohio residents pay what amounts to a “tobacco tax” of about $602 per household for smoking-related government expenditures annually.

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, and ensuring that all tobacco products are properly taxed and controlled. Brown has also written to the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to express his concerns regarding the USTR’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement Tobacco Proposal, which does not currently recognize tobacco as a unique consumer product and which may allow tobacco companies to use trade law to subvert domestic tobacco control measures.

In September, Brown held a news conference call to urge the Administration to put an end to Big Tobacco’s latest attempts to use trade law to undermine anti-smoking efforts and to sell and market e-cigs to children. Brown was joined on the call by Susan Liss, the Executive Director of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who helped discuss the means Big Tobacco is willing to take to replace the more than 400,000 customers it loses each year to tobacco-related death.