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Senate committee to discuss marketing of e-cigarettes to youths

The rising popularity of electronic cigarettes in adults and teenagers has health officials concerned and calling for more stringent regulation.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will have a hearing 2:30 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the advertising of e-cigarettes and the ways in which it appeals to children. The hearing will be streamed live on the Senate Commerce Committee website.

A study by the National Youth Tobacco Survey from 2011-2012 shows an increase in use of e-cigarettes in middle and high school students. In 2011, 3.3 percent of students grade 6-12 had tried e-cigarettes and that percent more than double in 2012 to 6.8 percent. The study also showed that 9.3 percent of students who reported trying e-cigarettes had never smoked conventional cigarettes.

E-cigarettes work by heating a liquid which usually contains propylene glycol, glycerin, nicotine and food flavoring. The heating element vaporizes the liquid which allows the user to inhale it.

Popular e-cigarettes brands such as Blu and Njoy place warning labels on the back of their products informing sellers that they are “intended for use by adults of legal smoking age.”

Dr. Rahul Gupta, Kanawha-Charleston Health Department director, said even with these guidelines students are resourceful and can still find ways to obtain e-cigarettes.

“The way they are marketed, they make it look like the new hip thing for kids to try,” Gupta said. “Once kids try the e-cigarettes they can get hooked on the nicotine and then move on to trying other products.”

While many believe e-cigarettes are beneficial to smokers trying to give up cigarettes, Gupta said there is still more research that needs to be done before e-cigarette companies can make that claim.

Andrew Hilts, owner Capitol City Vapors in Charleston, believes the opposite.

Hilts, an avid smoker for more than 30 years, said e-cigarettes saved his life. He said he smoked two packs a day and had problems with his weight, blood pressure and the ability to smell and taste food.

“I started vaping about five months ago and it has completely curbed my cravings,” Hilts said. “When I saw my doctor a few days ago he actually changed my records to say that I was an ex-smoker.”

Not only is he healthier but Hilts says he saves about $600 a month after switching to e-cigarettes and now only spends about $14 a week.

Instead of the smaller e-cigarettes like Blu, Hilts said he prefers the mid-size e-cigarettes also know as pens or eGo.

In April the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a statement proposing a new rule to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act signed by President Barack Obama in 2009. The new rule would allow the FDA to regulate additional tobacco products such as electronic cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels, waterpipe (or hookah) tobacco and dissolvables.

Under the current Tobacco Contract Act, the FDA is able to regulate cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your own tobacco and smokeless tobacco. It is also able to deem other tobacco products subject to the TCA’s controls by regulation through a rule-making and comment process.

“We cannot speculate on when the FDA will issue a final rule,” FDA spokeswoman Jenny Haliski said. “There is a 75 day comment period . . . as the agency intends to work as quickly as possible to review comments.”

Another question is whether secondhand “smoke” from e-cigarettes is harmful. Even though Kanawha County has banned smoking in all bars and restaurants there is no ruling on whether this ban includes e-cigarettes as well.

“We need more research on whether or not it actually helps people quit smoking,” Gupta said. “We need research on the chemicals in e-cigarettes and their effects and we need to research the impact of secondhand smoke from e-cigarettes.”

Julie Woessner, the president of Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, said the proposed regulation by the FDA will decimate the e-cigarette industry.

“The FDA is treating the e-cigarettes like actual cigarettes but they aren’t,” Woessner said. “They don’t need to be lighted which means there is no smoke and no combustion. Why would they want to wipe out e-cigarettes when the alternative is so much worse?”

In 2008 and 2010 the FDA said that e-cigarettes were unapproved drug/device combination products and did not allow Sottera, Inc. to import such products.

Sottera, Inc. challenged this act in court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that e-cigarettes were not drug/device products unless marketed for therapeutic use. It also said that e-cigarettes and other products derived from tobacco could be regulated as tobacco products under the Tobacco Control Act.

At this time, no e-cigarettes are approved by the FDA for therapeutic purposes.

The leading preventable cause of death and disease in West Virginia is tobacco. Despite its numerous proven health consequences about 4,000 West Virginia residents die each year from tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure, according to the West Virginia Division of Tobacco Prevention.

Whether or not e-cigarettes are a healthy alternative to cigarettes and other tobacco products is still under observation by the FDA and other health officials.

Contact writer Josephine Mendez at or 304-348-7917. Follow her at

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