Democratic senators introduced a bill Wednesday to regulate electronic cigarette marketing. The bill was introduced by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, California Sen. Barbara Boxer and three other Democrats.
The Protecting Children from Electronic Cigarette Advertising Act would focus specifically on the marketing of electronic cigarettes to children.
"We cannot risk undoing decades of progress in reducing youth smoking by allowing e-cigarette makers to target our kids," Boxer said. "This bill will help protect our children from an industry that profits from addiction."
Electronic cigarettes are tobacco cigarette substitutes that don't have the harmful effects of inhaling smoke. They work by heating a liquid nicotine solution and creating vapor. Though they are recognized as safer than tobacco cigarettes, long-term effects of using electronic cigarettes are still inconclusive.
Those who defend electronic cigarettes argue that they reduce tobacco consumption and tobacco-related deaths. Opponents argue that the vapor from e-cigarettes may have harmful effects.
E-cigarettes are currently unregulated by federal law but a number of cities including New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles have banned or are considering banning use of the devices in public places like restaurants. New Jersey, Utah and North Dakota have banned the use of e-cigarettes where smoking is prohibited. The Food and Drug Administration is currently considering whether to classify e-cigarettes like tobacco products.
Meanwhile, the senators are particularly concerned with advertising of the product to children.
"When it comes to the marketing of e-cigarettes to children and teens, it's 'Joe Camel' all over again," Harkin said. "It is troubling that manufacturers of e-cigarettes - some of whom also make traditional cigarettes - are attempting to establish a new generation of nicotine addicts through aggressive marketing that often uses cartoons and sponsorship of music festivals and sporting events."
Despite the fact that the health consequences of e-cigarettes haven't been proven, some studies have shown that they could serve as a gateway for children and teens to smoking tobacco cigarettes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted research finding that the percentage of high school students who tried e-cigarettes increased twofold in one year. Over 76 percent of those users said they also smoked tobacco cigarettes. A National Youth Tobacco Survey indicates that 1.87 million middle and high school students tried e-cigarettes in 2012.
"E-cigarettes are a gateway to tobacco use by children and teens and should not be marketed to youth, period," Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey said. "We've made great strides educating young people about the dangers of smoking, and we cannot allow e-cigarettes to snuff out the progress we've made preventing nicotine addiction and its deadly consequences."
The senate bill is backed by the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.