Sen. Boxer Calls for FTC Action ASAP on E-Cig Marketing

Says FTC should not wait for study results on alleged youth-targeted marketing

As expected, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is ramping up the pressure to curtail e-cigarette marketing, calling for the Federal Trade Commission to take immediate action even before it has finished a study of the issue.

In a letter to FTC chair Edith Ramirez dated Friday, Boxer urged the FTC to expedite the study and make sure it asked about targeting youth, including via online ads, social media, behavioral targeting and viral videos. But she said in the meantime the FTC should take enforcement actions against what she suggested was clearly youth-targeted marketing.

"While I hope this study will yield significant information that could benefit future regulations, I also ask that you immediately use your existing authority under 15 U.S.C. § 45 to take enforcement actions to stop these marketing tactics."

Following the FDA's recent decision to regulate the smokeless nicotine-delivery devices as it does the ones that smoke, Boxer urged a renewed look at advertisements and marketing techniques, particularly alleged targeting of youth. Cigarettes ads have not aired on TV since the early 1970s following an agreement between manufacturers and the government.

But Boxer has long been concerned about those e-cigarette ads. Back in January the Federal Trade Commission told Boxer it was seeking OMB approval to study the marketing and would seek info from marketers. She first wrote the FTC about the issue back in 2014.

"Given the danger these products pose to our nation's youth and the rapid rate at which advertising and use is growing, I also urge you to immediately act to stop these marketing tactics," the Senator said in a statement. "We cannot wait any longer to start protecting our youth from these dangerous products."

The full letter is reprinted below:

The Honorable Edith Ramirez
Chairwoman
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580

Dear Chairwoman Ramirez:

The actions taken by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week finalizing the deeming regulations were a huge victory for America's public health, but it is not enough.  Now, we must work to ensure that e-cigarette companies stop using false and deceptive advertising to target children.

On January 4, 2016 you wrote to me indicating that the Federal Trade Commission was seeking approval from the Office of Management and Budget to study the marketing of e-cigarettes, including liquid nicotine. In that letter, you indicated that, if granted approval, you would issue information requests to e-cigarette marketers.

I urge you to expedite the study and ask that you specifically solicit information about marketing tactics that target youth, including online advertising, advertising on social media, behavioral targeting, mobile marketing, and viral videos.

While I hope this study will yield significant information that could benefit future regulations, I also ask that you immediately use your existing authority under 15 U.S.C. § 45 to take enforcement actions to stop these marketing tactics.

Since I first wrote to you in 2014, youth exposure to e-cigarette advertising has skyrocketed. According to the CDC's January 2016 Vital Signs report on e-cigarette advertising exposure, over 18 million teens were exposed to e-cigarette advertisements in 2014.  That study also found that spending on e-cigarette advertising rose from $6.4 million in 2011 to an estimated $115 million in 2014. During that same period, current e-cigarette use among high school students grew from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 13.4 percent in 2014. In 2015, that number reached 16 percent.

This huge growth in e-cigarette advertising and teen usage is not a coincidence. In April of this year, a study published in the journal Pediatrics found that the greater the exposure to e-cigarette advertisements among middle and high school students, the greater the odds of their e-cigarette use. For years, we have seen e-cigarette manufacturers target youth using the same deplorable tactics big tobacco used in the past. This study simply confirmed the effectiveness of this tactic. We cannot wait any longer to start protecting our youth from these dangerous products.

I commend you for studying the marketing of electronic cigarettes. But, given the danger these products pose to our nation's youth and the rapid rate at which advertising and use is growing, I also urge you to immediately act to stop these marketing tactics.

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator