On Wednesday, a group of senators led by Sen. Barbara Boxer introduced the Protecting Children from Electronic Cigarette Advertising Act to prohibit the marketing of e-cigarettes to children. Such a bill would give the Federal Trade Commission the power to determine what constitutes inappropriate marketing to children, which would then be translated into a ban enforced by the FTC and states’ attorneys general. Despite the bill’s good intentions, its overly broad restrictions and sweeping assumptions over the influence of these e-cigarettes on the nation’s youth must be addressed.
The electronic cigarette, otherwise known as an e-cigarette, is a battery-powered device intended to imitate the experience of smoking without the harmful health effects. For habitual smokers, e-cigarettes both look and work like normal cigarettes. Unlike cigarettes made with tobacco leaves, however, e-cigarette users inhale and exhale liquid nicotine in the form of vapor, thereby avoiding both the harmful carcinogens and second-hand smoke of traditional cigarettes.
This safer nicotine fix, marketed as a healthier alternative for habitual smokers who wish to quit smoking cigarettes, has come with scrutiny. Proponents of the bill proposed by Sen. Boxer and others have attacked e-cigarette companies’ marketing tactics, which include celebrity advertisements and the marketing of fruity flavors, which they consider to be too appealing to youths.
“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,” Sen. Tom Harkin said in a statement.
Though concerns regarding the health of the nation’s youth are valid, the proposed legislation doesn’t properly address these issues. Rather than calling for traditional restrictions imposed on other addictive substances such as tobacco and alcohol, the bill instead calls for manipulating the ways in which these products are marketed.
Such restrictions on advertising have failed in the past. In the 2001 case of Lorillard Tobacco v. Reilly, the Supreme Court found that advertising restrictions on tobacco products aimed at protecting impressionable youth were, in fact, too broad. As was in the case in Lorillard, denouncing e-cigarette advertisements for marketing different flavors, hiring celebrities and using cartoons is absurd, and such limitations would be too broad to ever be truly enforced.
Like any other product that deals with serious substances such as caffeine and alcohol, consumers should be advised of the consequences associated with nicotine. But to impose advertising restrictions banning the use of cartoons and varied nicotine flavors out of fear that it will sway the impressionable younger generation is absurd. Advertisers utilize different flavors and celebrity cameos to market products proven to be more dangerous, including alcohol and tobacco. To attempt to impose these unenforceable limitations on e-cigarettes doesn’t solve the problem these senators seek to address — it just creates additional ones.
Yasmeen Serhan is a sophomore majoring in international relations. She is also the Editorial Director of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Fridays.