Flanked by two Yale doctors and brandishing packages of fruit-flavored “e-hookahs,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal Monday renewed his fight against tobacco industry marketing to kids.
Blumenthal called on the federal government to ban the “despicable” marketing of e-cigarettes and e-hookahs to kids, branding these products “the new Joe Camel.”
“Big Tobacco sees the future of this market in marketing to children,” observed Blumenthal, who as Connecticut’s attorney general joined in the national effort to end kid-oriented cigarette advertising that featured cartoon charters like Joe Camel.
Blumenthal made the remarks during a mid-morning press conference at Smilow Cancer Hospital on Park Street. Two top Smilow-based tobacco experts joined him: Dr. Roy S. Herbst, the hospital’s medical oncology chief, who chairs the American Association for Cancer Research Committee on Tobacco and Cancer; and Dr. Benjamin A. Toll, who runs Smilow’s Smoking Cessation Program.
A spokesman for the e-cigarette industry denied that the companies are marketing to kids.
“You have someone as honorable as him raging about flavors ...” remarked the spokesman, Thomas Kiklas of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association. “You want to ban a product and send six million Americans back to a product that kills 400,000 American a year?”
The three praised last week’s proposal by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to start regulating the fast-growing e-nicotine industry, which sells smokeless “vapor” nicotine-delivery products, often flavored. The trio said the government must do more, because tobacco companies are moving fast to hook kids “vaping.”
Some have embraced e-cigs—branded by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro as “nefarious new nicotine distribution devices”—as a tool to wean smokers from more harmful conventional cigarettes. Others worry that the battery-operated devices are hooking more people on nicotine—especially kids, to whom tobacco companies are allegedly marketing the products in flavors like chocolate and gummy bear. E-nicotine products have rapidly grown into a multibillion-dollar, unregulated industry. The devices deliver vaporized nicotine to users—like cigarettes without the smoke. E-hookahs are often marketed not as cigarette substitutes but simply as flavorful novelties.
Blumenthal, Herbst and Toll agreed that the scientific jury is still out about whether, as advocates claim, e-cigarettes and e-hookahs are less harmful than traditional cigarettes. But they said they are sure that the marketing of these products to minors is dangerous, because it hooks them on nicotine.
The senator brought props to the press conference: packages of “crazy apple,” “strawberry margarita,” and “blueberry blast” disposable “hookahs.”
“All of these flavors should be prohibited,” Blumenthal declared.
“Think of it in terms of alcohol. We permit adults to go into bars and drink. That can be true of adults to go into establishments that offer e-cigarettes. But the marketing of alcohol on the airwaves has generally be barred. The same kind of ... restrictions can be applied to e-cigarettes. ... E-cigarettes can be just as harmful or more so than alcohol. Because these products are definitely addictive to children and may even be toxic.”
Toll noted studies that show e-cigarette use rising fast among teens. He called tobacco use “the largest preventable cause of cancer in the United States,” responsible for a third of all cancer-related deaths, and “closer to 90 percent” of lung-cancer deaths. Citing flavors like “cherry crush” and chocolate, he said the companies are “clearly targeting children.”
He called fruit flavors a different matter.
“Is strawberry oriented to kids? There are strawberry vodkas on the market. Should we ban those? Appletinis? You can’t have an apple martini because kids like apples?” Kiklas asked.
He branded Blumenthal’s remarks “ridiculous,” “just the last breath of somebody who has not embraced the technology, looking to ban the product based on disinformation.”
“They started in 2009 by saying there are carcinogens and antifreeze in our products. That was scientifically rebuked,” Kiklas said. “We have over six million Americans not using tobacco products any more. We’re not making claims that we’re a stop-smoking device. We’re just less harmful.”
He said e-cigarettes typically have five ingredients: propelyene glycol, glycerol, nicotine, water, and flavoring. “The product is inert without a flavor,” he said. “You add a flavor—otherwise you’re just inhaling air and nicotine.”