Who leads the fight against banning e-cigarette sales to minors? Guess again: it is the American Cancer Society

by Carl V. Phillips

In the U.S., some state-level regulations to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 18 years of age (the same age for legal purchases of cigarettes or smokeless tobacco) have been introduced, though not as many as you might expect, with even fewer passing.  This seems kind of odd, since no company or industry group opposes such restrictions (and many actively support them and even enforce them even when not legally required), nor does any consumer advocate.  That is not to say that there is no argument against the restriction — someone could argue that it is better that kids have easier access to e-cigarettes than they do to cigarettes, or that they should be no more regulated than similar products like coffee, “energy” drinks, or nutritional supplements, which kids can buy.  But whatever such arguments could be made, no one is making them.

So who is preventing universal adoption of bans on sales to minors, and what arguments are they making?  The opposition to such restrictions is led by the American Cancer Society and their anti-THR allies.  Yes, you read that right. Someone jumping into this discussion with no knowledge might not find that surprising: “The American Cancer Society opposes sales restrictions on e-cigarettes? Well that makes sense, since they are a great tool for reducing cancer risk.”  But, of course, they do not really care about reducing cancer risk in this case, and they lead the campaigns of regulation and disinformation to prevent adult smokers from switching to e-cigarettes.

What are they up to?  Well, let’s consider the testimony of the ACS representative at the recent hearings in Rhode Island (quoted in its entirety).  The bill under consideration would impose onerous restriction on e-cigarette merchants (not merely prohibiting sales to minors), and thus CASAA and those who share our concerns with preserving adult access to e-cigarettes oppose it.  But the stated focus is preventing children from buying them.

Good afternoon, Chairman.  I’m Susan Roberts.  I am the State Director of Governmental Relations and Advocacy for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.  And again, I want to reiterate what my former colleague [from an allied ANTZ group with a similar position] testified to, that we really appreciate that the chairman has taken a look at protecting our youth here in Rhode Island.

We do have some concerns about this bill, and we also recognize that you realize that this bill has an identity crisis.  It looks like a Trojan horse to us.  I mean, it is coming to us saying that it’s protecting youth, and, in fact, what it’s really doing is circumventing some things we didn’t really get into a little bit today:  FDA regulation of these products.

Um, how is that again?  FDA regulations of FDA-regulated products preempt state law.  There is no way a state law could circumvent FDA regulation of the products.  This is especially true because: (a) There is no FDA regulation right now to circumvent, other than general lab standards and regulation of the food-quality ingredients, nor will there be for quite some time.  (b) It is impossible to imagine that anything in a bill that imposed requirements on retailers and prohibits minors from purchasing — which is all this does — could circumvent anything FDA might ever do, even apart from the preemption issue.

So that is of great concern because right now, FDA is looking at these products to figure out how safe and effective they really are, and we want to wait.

Except that they are not.  They have not even asserted regulatory authority over these products (yet), and FDA itself certainly does not have the capacity to do such research even if they were ready to move.  FDA outsources research, usually to the manufacturers themselves.  You would think that ACS would know that.

It’s essential that we wait until we get guidance from FDA before we even put in any kind of ban for the products for youth.

*cough* Wait, did I mishear that?  The people who want regulators to aggressively act to restrict adult use of THR, based on various speculative claims about what might happen someday, think that a “go slow and wait for more information” is the right approach to restricting children’s access.  Exactly what do they think we might learn that would change our minds about acting.  It is not like there is any chance they would ever reach the conclusion, “based on new guidance, we think that kids should be allowed to buy e-cigarettes”.

And we would ask that you do that and work with the Department of Health when it comes time so that we can make sure that we define those products in the appropriate way, that we capture all of the products to keep those out of the hands of youth.

So, um, the worry is that the definition is not broad enough yet?  So the argument is “because there will be more and different products in the future we should not restrict any products now until we know what they all are”?  Actually that seems like a great idea.  If they were to offer the same argument for adult access, that is.  Maybe we should start quoting them on that:  “The American Cancer Society says that we should wait for further evolution of the e-cigarette market before any regulations are imposed.”

And not only that, since FDA has not had a chance to evaluate these products in full, you know, there’s also great concerns that these are in the hands of adults right now.  I can tell you in the back of the room, there were folks using these vapor products right here in the room, and my chest began to hurt, and my throat was hurting.  And I’m very sensitive to those things, and there were other folks in the room saying the same thing.  So we ask that you wait until FDA actually reviews these.

Ah, so there it is.  Ms. Roberts used her claims of psychosomatic reactions to a few people vaping (and presumably barely exhaling much vapor in order to be discreet) and her projections of her rather unique reactions onto others to try to hide the admission of ACS’s real motives:  We do not like preventing sales to minors because it might interfere with our goal of banning sales to adults.  I will write more about the implications of this tactic in a subsequent post, because it is quite significant.

There’s another thing in here that you had mentioned about youth access, and there’s some penalization of youth for products in here.  That’s no mistake by the industry.  They put that in.  They actually want to see youth penalized and not the retailer penalized for selling those products to youth.  And so it’s a long-term tactic of the industry.  We just want to make you aware of that.

Again, huh?  If they did not like the penalty for the kids themselves — a reasonable position — why did ACS call for rejection of the bill rather than a simple amendment?  Apparently she is trying to imply (lie) that the kids faced punishment while the merchants did not, which is very much not true.  As for the “industry” bogeyman, it is true that this is one of several e-cigarette bills secretly authored by R.J. Reynolds, which CASAA has opposed because they are designed to hurt sales channels (internet, e-cigarette specialty stores) that would compete with RJR’s own e-cigarettes, which would presumably be sold alongside their cigarettes.  But if ACS were honestly interested in supporting the minor sales ban (which is CASAA’s position) they would just try to get rid of the bit they did not like (which is what CASAA has been doing with these bills) rather than trying to scrap the whole thing.  The only apparent explanation is that this is just an excuse for their real goal, blocking the minor sales ban in order to use the lack of such bans as an excuse for prohibition.

And then the Clean Indoor Air, this could actually roll back Clean Indoor Air.  So there are several things in here, circumventing taxes, FDA.

I am just going to assume that passage was a burst of Tourette Syndrome, since it seems like just a bunch of random words that bore no relation to this bill about retail sales practices.

And one of the other things I just wanted to bring up when we talk about FDA.  So imagine for a moment Big Pharma, pharmacy industry, would come in and tell you, “Hey, we’ve got a drug that’s under review by FDA, but we’re asking you as a lawmaker to circumvent that altogether, and you determine what should happen.”  That’s just completely wrong.  FDA was put together by Congress.  They have the authority to do what they need to do to protect your constituency.

Yes, from the steel-trap minds of tobacco control:  Restricting sales to minors of a product that FDA does not regulate is exactly the same as violating federal law by allowing sales of a drug that is currently illegal to sell pending FDA approval.

And I know, Chairman Melo, you’ve done a great job in the past, and we really look forward to working with you in the future to help guide you, and we’ll serve as a resource.  People–you were asking what we’re doing to protect children from these products, we–once FDA gives us that guidance, I can assure you, sir, with you and with all of the others, we’ll work to protect the youth from these products.  So thank you so much.

I have no further questions for the witness.

[UPDATE: Julie Woessner points out that the role of “public health” groups blocking minor sales ban is not exclusive to ACS, but rather American Lung Association and American Heart Association have taken the same position (though perhaps not recently).  See her comment about Illinois in 2010 for interesting details.  I have added ALA and AHA to the tags for this post.]

26 responses to “Who leads the fight against banning e-cigarette sales to minors? Guess again: it is the American Cancer Society

  1. If they say their chest tightened and they felt dizzy, it wasn’t from the vapor. They’re either lying through their teecth or mentally so excited they really do feel dizzy. I actually feel my chest tighten and get very dizzy (I’m not kidding you) when they tell their lies, can we ban that?

  2. Ernest Hightower

    Full disclosure also requires that you address marketing lies: that vaping e-cigarettes will make you sexier, more seductive, or hipper. Those are the psychological triggers being pulled by e-cig marketers in this burgeoning industry, and this is evident by visiting the websites for blu, Modern Smoke and NJOY King. They are appealing to the deeper social and self-esteem needs typical of young people: to belong, to be respected, and to be distinctive in the crowd. E-cig companies aren’t making a case for THR because they know proxies like you are making this case. Their aim, long-term, is to hook a new generation of nicotine addicts just as the cigarette companies so successfully accomplished during the 20th century (and still are overseas). They know, as do you, that 90% of today’s adult daily cigarette smokers began smoking before age 18. The future of vaping belongs to youth. Before you become too comfortable with the nobility of your motives, you need to address the lies of marketing that are buried in aspirational photo and video images, through celebrity endorsers and by myriad subliminal appeals not only to switch but to adopt. You need to take a stand firmly against e-cig advertising through mass media to teens or, in my opinion, you are party to another set of lies being disseminated through marketing communications.

    • Carl V Phillips

      Um, I am not sure if you read the content of the post. We (CASAA) support moves to prohibit underage purchases. The American Cancer Society opposes them. And you seem to have conveniently ignored the observation that many e-cigarette merchants and trade associations have chosen to refuse to sell to minors even where it is legal. There was no mention of advertising in the proposed bill or this post.

      As for your allegations, can I ask you to clarify what you are talking about. What, exactly, do you believe is designed to appeal to those self-esteem needs? What exactly are you claiming about “aspirational images”? What subliminal appeals? And most of all, what lies?

      Also, you might want to check your facts a bit. Far less than 90% of smokers in the U.S. start before they are 18, at it has been that way for a while (to count those who are currently over 60 years old and came of age in an entirely different era, or people in much younger populations elsewhere in the world, in order to come up with your statistic is seriously misleading). As for e-cigarettes, the dedicated users are almost all former smokers who quit or cut back with e-cigarettes, and well past their teens; someday there will be a lot of low-risk nicotine users who adopted those products initially rather than ever smoking, which is also good news, but outside of Sweden that will not be a large portion of users for a long while. As for why *most* law-abiding e-cigarette merchants do not deliver the THR message, it is because they are effectively banned from doing so in association with product sales or marketing; only the minority with effective communications channels that are not associated with their marketing can do so (though, contrary to your claim, there are some who do just that).

      • Carl V Phillips

        Note to readers: The original commenter submitted another quite long comment that did not respond to my questions and mostly introduced further off-topic tangents. I emailed him offering to post the substantive part that was not further off-topic, suggesting he could save the rest until it was on-topic, but AOL informed me that the address he gave did not exist. [Mr. Hightower (or Mr. Green, or whatever your real name is), if you would like to give me a real email address, I will resend the note.] I will not edit a comment without permission, but will reject inappropriate submissions (with a resubmit request if they are not so far off-topic that they are salvageable) and so that is the status of that submission. Lest any anti-THR readers interpret this as censorship, allow me to assure you that by not posting the bulk of the submission, I was doing your cause a favor.

    • I love the smell of prohibition in the morning.

      There’s nothing wrong with using nicotine. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the effects of nicotine. There’s nothing wrong with becoming a little dependent on nicotine. And when you use nicotine in vapour form, you actually do become a LITTLE dependent on it. Never as dependent on it as nicotine via tobacco smoke.

      Do your research. A cigarette uses far more than nicotine to addict the user and more than 100 addiitives to make those addictive substances even more potent.


      An e-cigarette has nicotine as it’s ONLY addcitive substance and nicotine by itself is not very addictive. An ecigarette only contain 4 substances, Glycerin,Glycol,Nicotine and Flavour. All studies, ESPECIALLY the ones that claim that nicotine is more addictive than cocain, were done by studying tobacco smoke, not nicotine by itself, and certainly not nicotine in vapor form.

      Your scaremongering about youth using electronic cigarettes is your mere prejudice manifesting as some kind of ‘service’ for the public good or whatever it is that you’ve rationalized in your own mind to be.

      You’ve been taught to hate nicotine. And you’ve been taught to hate those who use nicotine. Nicotine is the Dateline Predator that wants to enter your house and rape your child. Nicotine is your enemy, nicotine is your terrorist, nicotine is the communist that wants to rule your nation, tear up your constitution and eat your puppies. You’re just another drone that’s been programmed to hate something, and if you ever did some soul searching, you’d probably find that you have no actual reason to hate nicotine. You post your hate here because you’re not allowed to hate anything else. Nicotine and Nicotine users are easy victims of your hate. If this were the 19th century, you’d probably be picking on African Americans.

      You disgust me.

    • Jonathan Bagley

      Where is the problem with people being addicted to nicotine? Even prominent members of the anti tobacco industry acknowledge it is no more harmful than caffeine. There is no evidence that taking it in the form of snus, the Swedish oral tobacco product, has any adverse health effects. I don’t see a society in which 20% of the population is addicted to nicotine as particularly bad in the general scheme of things. I’m addicted to nicotine in some sense. Fortunately the ecig was invented and I can indulge my addiction until I die, carrying on going to work, being a law-abiding member of society, keeping fit at the gym and paying my taxes. Nicotine addiction is the least of society’s problems.

    • James F. Anderson

      Mr. Hightower sure sounds an awful like like Brent Green, who wrote this article for the Huffington Post — http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brent-green/electronic-cigarettes_b_2918405.html

      Is a pseudonym really necessary?

    • Mr Hightower,
      Could you explain how advertising should be targeted, please? Adverts for most consumer products generally tend to include the factors you mention; perhaps there is some sort of alternative route that would generate sales at the same volume?

      We could ask vendors to take this route, if it was explained to us. Currently, though, as advertising for everything from iPads to cars appears to contain attractive, well-dressed young people and aspirational messages, or similar, and it seems to work, and is not thought of in the poisonous or dangerously attractive to children way you imply, then perhaps you are saying that all marketing should be banned? Products generally sell to all age groups even though ads feature young and attractive people; goods designed for old, poor people are advertised featuring young, apparently well-off people as a matter of course.

      Naturally, all marketing may be seen as unwanted; but unfortunately everyone, including the country you live in, would go bust without it.

      Alternative methods such as the featuring of old, ill-dressed people in unattractive locations, doing boring things, while suffering from assorted ills, are an interesting suggestion (even though this may apply to many of us in practice, of course) – but at first glance do not seem to guarantee the improvement of sales figures. Perhaps you can clarify this issue? Or, perhaps advertising for consumer products such as coffee, sodas or e-cigarettes should be prohibited? Is it right to prohibit advertising for the only method that is proven to significantly reduce smoking once the 20% prevalence barrier is reached? Should we not, in contrast, prohibit advertising for the various things that are probably useless (such as plain pack initiatives) or are proven not to work (such as pharmaceutical interventions for smoking cessation) and are thus potentially dangerous?

      As I do not wish to use a pseudonym or conceal my identity or affiliations in any way, considering that we are discussing a subject that concerns the life or death of millions of people, please note the true and unconcealed authorship of this post:
      Chris Price
      [on the web: Rolygate, chris.p]
      Secretary, ECCA UK (the UK consumer group)

  3. Pingback: Who leads the fight against banning e-cigarette...

  4. Julie Woessner

    I remember back in 2010 when Illinois was considering banning the sale of e-cigarettes–not just to minors, but to adults as well. The proposed legislation (SB 3174) was introduced by Representative Colvin at the behest of the American Lung Association. Kathy Drea, vice president of Advocacy for the ALA, showed up to testify at the hearing before the House of Representatives’ Health and Human Services Committee.

    After hearing testimony from impassioned vapers, it became clear that the Committee was reluctant to deny adults the ability to purchase e-cigarettes. The Chair of the Committee, who cosponsored the bill, asked Rep. Colvin if he would consider amending the bill so that it only prohibited sales to minors. When the Chair suggested that, the room full of vapers broke into spontaneous applause, indicating our wholehearted approval.

    At this point, the ALA had the opportunity to agree to an amendment or face the almost certain prospect that the bill would die in committee. And what was the response of Kathy Drea to the suggestion of an amendment to prohibit sales of e-cigarettes to minors? She declined: “Our national office, the American Lung Association national office, as well as the American Heart Association national office, and the American Cancer Society national office have asked us to go down this avenue at this time because of the appeal that’s in place right now.” (The appeal she was referring to was the FDA v. Smoking Everywhere/Sotrera case, a case which ultimately rejected the FDA’s attempts to regulate e-cigarettes as a drug.)

    Vapers in the room were shocked. It should have been an absolute no-brainer to ban sales to youth. But the ALA was more concerned about pushing a prohibitionist agenda than protecting minors.

    As far as I’m concerned, the ALA, AHA, and ACS have completely sold out the public they claim to serve. (And in case anyone is wondering, as of today, it is still legal to sell e-cigarettes to minors in Illinois, thanks to the ALA, AHA, and ACS.)

    • Carl V Phillips

      I thank my fellow CASAA board member for the additional education. I vaguely knew about this history (it happened back when I was working only on THR science and education, not politics), but did not attempt to pull my knowledge together for this post. I have added an Update to the main post pointing to this comment and have added ALA and AHA to ACS in the tags.

  5. Pingback: Who leads the fight against banning e-cigarette...

  6. The e-cig has helped me get through the rough patch of actually quitting the cigarette addiction from over 40+ years and I feel dam good! The e-cig offers a reduction of nicotine to actually get off of the addiction for EVER! I haven’t felt this good for years, I no longer cough like I have some exotic disease any more and am no longer embarrassed! So, you dupa’s shut the hello up and leave this one alone! I doubt the e-cig is very attractive to the youth in any country! As far as the flavors are concerned, I am sure some feel the need to associate their addiction to a flavor thinking it would be easier to quit- I personally did not do this for fear I would have to rely on another crutch to make it through this addiction.

  7. A story in this morning’s Wall Street Journal discusses the market for e-cigarettes. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in a recent study that 21% of adults who smoke regular cigarettes had used e-cigs in 2011, up from 10% in 2010. About 6% of all adults have tried e-cigarettes, nearly doubling from 2010, according to the CDC.” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323335404578444593773925274.html

    Several surveys of e-cigarette consumers have shown that around 70% are between the ages of 30 and 60 years old. Most survey respondents purchased their e-cigarettes via the Internet. The same pattern is being seen in brick-and-mortar stores. The WSJ article quotes the owner of Cigarette Store Corp., which owns 85 “Smoker Friendly” stores in five states. “Ms. Szarmach said many of the chain’s e-cigarette customers are 30 to 50 years old and “dual users” who still buy regular cigarettes, but less than before, as they try to scale back or quit smoking.”

    So if e-cigarette marketers are aiming their advertising at kids, it isn’t working very well. All the old folks are buying them! This 67-year old has been smoke-free for over 4 years thanks to e-cigarettes.

  8. Pingback: Why do the American Cancer Society et al. oppose regulations to prevent kids from using e-cigarettes? | Anti-THR Lies and related topics

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  11. smokefree@compuserve.com

    While the ACS’ Susan Roberts made lots of stupid statements to the RI legisotors, at least ACS (and other health organizations in RI) coalesced with vapers and vendors in opposing the RJ Reynolds sponsored legislation that would have basically given the e-cigarette market in RI to Big Tobacco companies that already have shelf display and sales contracts with licensed tobacco retailers.

    Politics makes strange bedfellows, and we should utilize this opportunity (as well as a similar one in OK) to educate and convince amenable folks at ACS, AHA, ALA and local/state health departments to not oppose e-cigarettes.

    The best way to convince the DC offices of ACS, AHA, ALA to switch their position on e-cigarettes (which has been largely determined by CTFK during the past decade) is to convince staff of their state and local affiliates of the benefits e-cigarettes provide smokers, and that they pose no known risks to nonsmokers or youth.

    But don’t expect any state and local affiliate staff to publicly endorse e-cigarettes until after their national office changes its policy (because doing so would cost them their job).

    Bill Godshall

    • Carl V Phillips

      Good point about trying to win over the local employees. It is indeed hard to tell whether some of them are grudgingly repeating what their masters tell them to say or whether they really believe it. I will keep that in mind (though the necessary shoe-leather diplomacy is definitely more your area than mine).

      I am not so sure about your characterization of this being an alliance, even temporary, however. The one piece of the proposal that CASAA supports is the one they opposed. I suspect they would have been fine with just banning internet sales to adults if that was the compromise they could have gotten. It was convenient for both factions (the prohibitionists and those of us who support the public interest) that the other also opposed this particular proposal, but I don’t think that makes us strange bedfellows.

  12. Pingback: American Cancer Society: Let Minors Buy Electronic Cigarettes | Ecig Advanced News

  13. Pingback: Call to Action! SUPPORT Arizona Bill to Ban E-Cigarette Sales to Minors - SB 1209

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  16. Jose - Southbeachsmoke.com

    How ironic for American cancer Society to make this move. This is very counter-productive and against the very spirit of this organization. Why banning e-cigarettes access for minors? Are they sure that by doing this, they can stop all minors from smoking any kid of cigarette forever? We know that minors are not dumb. Once e-cigarettes are inaccessible, they may as well smoke conventional tobacco cigarettes. When both things are forbidden, why not try the most dangerous, risky one? Why settle for the politically correct, healthier choice? It adds the thrill for them. Such bans and strict regulations will only dare them to try real tobacco smoking.

  17. Pingback: CASAA draft position statement on ecigs and children | Anti-THR Lies and related topics

  18. Pingback: CDC lies about ecigs and children again (wait, have I used that title before?) | Anti-THR Lies and related topics

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