Durbin: Hard to Believe that Cartoons and Candy Don't Increase E-Cigarettes' Appeal to Kids

Senator warns that as popularity of "vaping" has grown among youth, so has the alarming evidence that e-cigarettes pose potential health risks

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) spoke today at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee reviewing e-cigarette advertising and promotional practices that appeal to kids. During his remarks, Durbin called attention to the growing popularity of e-cigarettes, the potential health risks posed by their use, and the aggressive marketing of those products to children and adolescents. Photos of Senator Durbin at the hearing will be available shortly here.

“We have the e-cigarette industry arguing that it’s just an accident that all their advertising and marketing is appealing to so many kids. That’s hard to understand, and I think hard to believe,” Durbin said, “Twenty-four million children have seen their ads. That’s no accident in the world of big business. This is the same battle we’ve fought before, and we know what it leads to: tobacco addiction, disease, and death. I don’t believe there is a case to be made for e-cigarettes being sold to children, and I hope this Committee feels the same way.”


Video of Durbin’s remarks is available here.


Audio of Durbin’s remarks is available here.

Earlier this year, Durbin released an investigation report, “Gateway to Addiction? A Survey of Popular Electronic Cigarette Manufacturers and Marketing to Youth,” that showed a dramatic recent increase in the marketing of electronic cigarettes – or e-cigarettes – with extensive resources being dedicated to social media, sponsorship of youth-oriented events, and television and radio advertisements that reach substantial youth audiences. The report was coauthored by Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller; Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin; and eight other Members of Congress.


The major findings of the report include:


  • All surveyed e-cigarette companies appear to use various marketing practices that appeal to youth, such as social media outreach, sponsorships of and free samples provided at youth-oriented events, and radio and television advertisements played during events and programs with significant youth viewership.


  • Six of the nine surveyed e-cigarette companies market e-cigarettes in flavors, like Cherry Crush, Chocolate Treat, Peachy Keen, and Grape Mint, that could appeal to children and teens.


  • E-cigarette manufacturers have significantly increased marketing spending, more than doubling marketing expenditures between 2012 and 2013. Last year, six leading e-cigarette companies spent a total of $59.3 million on marketing alone.


  • Six of the eight respondents support some form of regulation, including restrictions on the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes to children and teens.


Senator Durbin’s remarks as prepared are available below:


Remarks by Senator Richard J. Durbin

U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

 “Aggressive E-Cigarette Marketing and Potential Consequences for Youth”

June 18, 2014


I commend Chairman Rockefeller and Senator Thune for their leadership in convening this hearing, and I thank Chairman Rockefeller for inviting me to participate.


Although we have cut smoking rates in this country by half, today, we face a new threat—the rise of e-cigarettes.


Thanks to the exploitation of loopholes and insufficient action by the FDA, e-cigarettes are being marketed to children today just as cigarettes were 50 years ago.


What’s worse, these marketing techniques are just as effective in reaching today’s youth as they were then.


Extent of the Threat


E-cigarette use among our nation’s children is on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data last year showing that, in just one year—from 2011 to 2012—the percentage of middle and high school students who had used e-cigarettes more than doubled.


This same study found that one in five middle school students who reported using e-cigarettes had never tried conventional cigarettes.


This suggests that, among young people, e-cigarettes could be a gateway to nicotine addiction and smoking.


A new study released in the JAMA Pediatrics goes even further. This study found that middle and high-school students who used e-cigarettes were more likely to smoke traditional cigarettes and less likely to quit smoking.


In fact, according to the 2014 Surgeon General’s report, many kids and young adults who are occasional smokers go on to become daily smokers – 2,100 of them every day.


For tobacco companies, the case for targeting young people is simple. Nearly 90 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they graduated from high school. Given how addictive nicotine is, almost all of those high school kids become a customer for life for tobacco companies.


But, the human and financial toll is devastating. If current smoking trends continue, 5.6 million American kids will die prematurely from a smoking-related illness.


Potentially Harmful Chemicals


E-cigarette manufacturers often claim their products actually provide some public health benefit.


E-cigarette manufacturer Lead by Sales, which markets for White Cloud brands, states, “You get the feeling of smoking real cigarettes without all of their negative side effects.”


There is little to no evidence to support these claims. Further, emerging evidence published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that e-cigarettes don’t help people quit or reduce overall cigarette consumption.


The CDC data and JAMA Pediatrics article suggest that e-cigarettes may actually serve as a gateway to traditional cigarettes, especially among children.


There’s another problem with this claim that there may be a health benefit. We don’t know what is in these products because they are not currently regulated.


Some early studies show that vapors generated by e-cigarettes contain toxins, including formaldehyde – a known carcinogen – and acetaldehyde – a potential carcinogen – and metals, such as cadmium, nickel, and lead.


Nicotine itself also poses serious harms.


Liquid Nicotine Used in E-cigs


The number of calls to poison control centers involving e-cigarette liquids with nicotine has skyrocketed. In September 2010, there was one call involving e-cigarette liquid. In February 2014, there were 215.


More than half of these calls involved children under age 5. Babies, really. Let me tell you about one of these cases.


Last summer, in Illinois, a four year-old child got into a vial of Juicy Vapor e-liquid, and swallowed a small amount. The child vomited and became ashen and lethargic. He was rushed to the local emergency department, and luckily, after several hours, he was released from the hospital.


Tobacco Industry Tactics


Unlike regular tobacco, e-cigarette companies are legally allowed to market their products in ways that reach millions of children.


In April, ten of my Congressional colleagues and I released a report documenting how leading e-cigarette manufacturers are marketing e-cigarettes to our young people.


The industry is using longstanding advertising techniques that they know are effective, because they used the same techniques to hook previous generations of smokers.


We found that many of these companies hired glamorous celebrities to push their brands through TV and radio ads.


They sponsored events with heavy social media promotion. They even revived cartoon characters, in a way that calls to mind Joe Camel—the deadliest cartoon of the 20th century.


Lorillard, as you may recall, was among the seven companies that testified before a House Committee 30 years ago, arguing that cigarettes were not addictive.


Now Lorillard is back, arguing that they don’t market to kids.


A robust analysis recently published in the journal Pediatrics suggests otherwise.


Between 2011 and 2013, exposure to e-cigarette marketing by children aged 12 to17 rose 256%.


24 million children saw these ads.


Lorillard’s Blu e-cigarette accounted for 80% of this advertising targeted at 12 to 17 year-olds.


Fifth Graders


And these tactics seem to be working. A parent was presenting to a group of 5th grade students in Massachusetts the harmful effects of smoking.


To the parent’s dismay, the students—and I mean all 22 of the students, even the presenter’s daughter—were adamant that the “‘water vapor’ cigarettes” were fine.


And some kids said that they were just like candy cigarettes, with flavors like bubble gum. When the teacher described how these e-cigarettes were harmful, the kids were insistent she was wrong.


Perhaps this is why e-cigarette companies have dramatically increased their spending on marketing—in 2013 alone, the six companies in our investigation spent $59.3 million to advertise their e-cigarette products.


Lorillard alone increased its advertising budget for Blu from $2 million in 2011 to more than $40 million in 2013.


But they don’t stop there. Not only is the marketing and packaging intended to appeal to young people, so is the product itself.


Let me read you a list of e-cigarette flavors being marketed by some of the people here today – vivid vanilla, piña colada, chocolate treat, and cherry crush.


The manufacturer VMR boasts over 42 e-cigarette flavors.


The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act bans flavored cigarettes largely because of their disproportionate appeal to kids. Why would we allow the tobacco industry to use this tactic again to lure in a new generation of tobacco users?


Steps to Effectively Regulate Tobacco


On June 22, we will celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.


After years of waiting, the FDA finally began to issue its regulations on e-cigarettes and other tobacco products not covered by the Tobacco Control Act.


The FDA should not extend the comment period on these regulations, which would delay the process even further.


FDA proposes to ban direct sales to minors and to require these companies to list their ingredients. But the FDA’s regulations were dangerously silent on one of the most pressing questions of all – the marketing of these addictive products.




Fifty years from now—in 2064, at the 100th anniversary of the Surgeon General’s report – I hope we can look back and not wish that we had acted more quickly as the threat of e-cigarettes became apparent.


If the FDA takes decisive action now, it can spare the next two generations from years of suffering and lethal struggle against nicotine addiction that have brought so much loss and heartbreak since 1964.