U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is taking aim at the manufacturers of electronic cigarettes to stop them from marketing their increasingly popular products to children.
The senator announced Sunday he is co-sponsoring a bill requiring the Federal Trade Commission to prohibit advertising and promoting e-cigs in a way that is clearly aimed at youngsters.
Manufacturers use questionable tactics such as offering bubble gum and cotton candy flavored varieties, to attract younger customers Schumer said.
The senator said that's troublesome because the health risks of e-cigs are still unknown.
"We've made so much progress in getting kids not to smoke . . . but now e-cigarettes threaten that progress," said Schumer (D-New York).
Tobacco use among teens in the five boroughs has remained flat at 8.5% since 2007, according to the city's health department.
Although e-cigarette companies say the plastic devices are less harmful than regular cigarettes since they don't have tar, tobacco or smoke, a study by the American Medical Association journal Pediatrics found they can get people more addicted to regular cigarettes because they have nicotine. About 10% of high school students say they tried e-cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The FDA doesn't regulate e-cigarettes because they don't have tobacco; and the advertisments for the devices are not regulated by the FCC.
"Manufactures of e-cigarettes repeatedly say they don't market to kids but their actions say differently," said Susan Kennedy, the director of the Tobacco Action Coalition of Long Island.
Schumer's bill has several co-sponsors, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and anti-tobacco advocates are optimistic that it will make an impact.
Michael Seilback, of the American Lung Association, said the federal government needs to be tougher on the manufacturers in order to sustain the progress the country has seen in the declining number of smokers.
"They need replacement smokers if they want to keep their industry afloat," he said of the tobacco companies.
Last year, the City Council banned e-cigs for those under 21 and prohibiting their use inside restaurants, bars and public parks.