Ohio AG: E-cigarettes made to look like candy, school supplies

DeWine warned parents to be aware of how the makers of these devices are trying to entice children, a warning that drew a rebuke from the advocacy group that represents the vaping and e-cigarette industry.

“The public has a right to be concerned about something that will addict another generation of kids,” DeWine said.

Electronic or “e-cigarettes” — sometimes called vapor cigarettes — heat and deliver a flavored, nicotine-laced liquid without burning tobacco or tar. The user gets a shot of nicotine without actually smoking.

DeWine visited Cox Media Group Ohio offices with an array of vapor cigarette delivery devices as well as school-age pens and containers of liquid candy and “spray candy.” He remarked on how similar the products appeared.

“They’re not appealing to a 40-year-old, a 50-year-old two-pack-a-day Camel smoker,” DeWine said.

He stressed that he has no issue with adult smokers who turn to e-cigarettes as a way to quit tobacco smoking.

But he said parents should be aware of how the nicotine delivery devices are being marketed, and how similar in appearance they are to other products.

Parents should be particularly concerned because vapor cigarettes can be a “gateway drug” to tobacco products, he said.

DeWine did not recommend specific legislation, and he said he was not planning legal action against vapor cigarette producers. But he said he has written to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, seeking restrictions in how e-cigarettes are marketed.

Marketing practices

For decades, tobacco-makers have shouldered restrictions on how they can market or advertise their products. In the late 1960s, for example, Congress banned cigarette ads from TV and radio.

The president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Vaping Association, an industry advocacy group, took issue with DeWine’s message.

“I don’t make it a practice to malign state AGs, so I’ll say that I greatly disagree with many of the comments of Attorney General DeWine,” said Gregory Conley, association president.

Vapor cigarettes are not marketed to children or designed to look like candy, he said. He said adults are using vapor cigarettes to quit traditional smoking, while youth tobacco smoking itself has declined by 40 percent from 2011 to 2014, a number he said was based on federal studies.

DeWine’s concerns are “belied by the evidence,” Conley said.

“We encourage all of those who take negative stances on vapor products to actually stop into one of Ohio’s 50-plus vapor stores and talk to one of the real humans who have quit smoking with one of these smoke-free products,” he said.

DeWine believes the issue is best addressed at the federal level. At the very least, he would like to see a requirement for child-proof or “safety caps” on containers of liquid nicotine.

In December 2014, police said a 1-year-old toddler died after drinking liquid nicotine at a home in upstate Fort Plain, N.Y.

“Our message to parents is to be on the lookout,” the attorney general said.

Today, the FDA says that only e-cigarettes that are marketed for “therapeutic purposes” are regulated by its Center for Drug Evaluation. The agency says it has issued a proposed rule that would extend the agency’s authority to cover products like e-cigarettes.

“We’re obviously very concerned about the dramatic rise in youth use of e-cigarettes,” said John Schachter, a spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, an organization that fights tobacco use by young people.

E-cigarettes usage has nearly tripled in the past year, rising from just under five percent to almost 14 percent of high school students nationally, he said.

Schachter said too many liquid nicotine flavors are clearly designed to draw youth. He cited flavors like cotton candy, gummy bears, captain crunch and “unicorn puke.”

“It’s just something we’ve been really repeatedly saying,” he said.”When you look at the marketing in general … you look at a host of ways that they’re clearly going after young people.”

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