Without that kind of oversight, he said, e-cigarette companies have remained free to sell their products online and spend huge sums mimicking the advertising practices that big tobacco companies once used.
“We have seen e-cigarettes marketed using exactly the same images in exactly the same places that the cigarette industry used decades ago,” he said. “Open a magazine, and you’ll see beautiful women and young celebrities marketing e-cigarettes. Go to NASCAR, and you’ll see cars sponsored by e-cigarettes.”
Those efforts to “re-glamorize” smoking, Myers said, threaten to undo years of efforts and millions of dollars spent on campaigns to cut down on youth smoking in the United States and could create a new generation of smokers.
Proponents of e-cigarettes reject comparisons to traditional cigarettes, arguing that they contain nowhere near the amount of harmful substances that smokers inhale. They also have argued that rather than creating a slippery slope that could lead nonsmokers toward other tobacco products, e-cigarettes have the potential to help people wean themselves off conventional cigarettes.
Thomas Kiklas, president of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, said he doesn’t buy the argument that e-cigarettes are a “gateway” to traditional cigarettes for young people.
“Kids have been smoking for hundreds of years,” he said. “So I don’t think any singular technology is going to push kids into cigarette use.”
At the same time, he said, the association “absolutely” does not support sales or marketing aimed at minors and encourages its members to adhere to local, state and federal tobacco laws. He said the group supports mandatory online age verification on e-cigarette sales.
The FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products still plans to assert its authority over e-cigarettes, its director said Thursday, in part because, without regulation, the agency has little way to know how safe or unsafe they are, how much nicotine or other chemicals users are inhaling, and whether the devices can help people quit smoking traditional cigarettes or lead them to try other tobacco products.
“We don’t yet understand the long-term effects of these novel tobacco products,” Mitch Zeller, the FDA’s top tobacco official, said in a statement. “These findings reinforce why the FDA intends to expand its authority over all tobacco products and establish a comprehensive and appropriate regulatory framework to reduce disease and death from tobacco use.”