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Durbin Wants To Snuff Out Kid-Oriented Marketing Of E-Cigarettes

Ryan Denham / WGLT

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin called Tuesday for tougher regulations on e-cigarettes, especially the “insidious” marketing of flavored products to children.

Flanked by doctors and public health officials, the senior Democratic senator from Illinois said he wants to ban flavored e-cigarette products and standardize regulations on how e-cigs are sold — including where and the minimum age of customers.

Durbin spoke as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued 13 warning letters to manufacturers, distributors, and retailers for selling e-liquids used in e-cigarettes with labeling and advertising resembling kid-friendly food products, such as juice boxes, candy or cookies -- some of them with cartoon-like imagery.

“Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind who they’re marketing to?” asked Durbin, whose father — a smoker — died of lung cancer when Durbin was in high school. “They’re selling to kids an addictive product. It’s the same story we went through with tobacco cigarettes. We have to do more.”

While cigarette use has declined among young people, e-cigs use has grown dramatically in the last five years. In Illinois, 27 percent of all high school students are using e-cigs, while just 10 percent of students smoke cigarettes, Durbin said.

Some consider e-cigarettes—also known as personal vaporizers, or vapes—as an alternative to traditional cigarettes. But e-cigs are still considered tobacco products because most of them contain nicotine, which comes from tobacco. Nicotine exposure during adolescence and young adulthood can cause addiction and harm the developing brain, according to the Office of the U.S Surgeon General.

“We’re trading one addiction for another,” Durbin said.

Durbin was joined Tuesday by Dr. James Nevin, vice president of medical management at Advocate BroMenn and Advocate Eureka. He said the unknown health effects of e-cigs were substantial, especially for young brains, even if they never begin smoking traditional cigarettes.

“The past is prologue,” Nevin said, referring to past fights over the marketing of tobacco products to children. “If we don’t act now, it’s going to be too late.”

Durbin criticized the FDA’s decision to delay its regulation of e-cigarettes until 2022, which was welcomed by the e-cigs industry. He praised the FDA for announcing last month a “nationwide blitz of brick-and-mortar and online retailers and issued warning letters to businesses that sold JUUL-brand products to minors.”

Durbin called out the e-cigs company JUUL specifically.

“We support effective legislation and regulation to prevent the purchase and use of our products by minors,” the company says on its website.

Ryan Denham started his career as a copy editor and later business and city government reporter at The Pantagraph in 2006. He later worked for WJBC radio in Bloomington. He now works in website development for Illinois State University and is a freelance reporter for WGLT.