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Letter to National Broadcasting Company Chief Executive Officer Stephen Burke - Avoid Glamorization of E-Cigarette Use on Television


Location: Washington, DC

Today Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., senior Democrat of House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee and Henry A. Waxman, Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter to four major broadcast networks--ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC--urging the organizations to avoid glamorizing the use of electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, and potentially influencing children during their programming. The letter comes in response to the recent broadcast of the Golden Globe Awards, which featured actress Julia Louis Dreyfus using an e-cigarette on primetime television.

Both Reps. Pallone and Waxman have repeatedly drawn attention to the health risks e-cigarettes pose, as well as their potential to serve as an entry point to smoking among kids. They have called on the Obama Administration to issue stricter rules and regulations regarding the manufacture, distribution, and marketing of e-cigarettes. Additionally, both have expressed serious concern regarding the promotional tactics employed by some e-cigarette companies, which are similar to those previously used by the tobacco industry to appeal to youth, such as the use of candy flavoring, cartoon images, and event sponsorships.

Below is the full text of the letter:

January 16, 2014

Stephen B. Burke, CEO
The National Broadcasting Company
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10020

Dear Mr. Burke:

Recently during the Golden Globe Awards, we were dismayed to see actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus featured on primetime television using an electronic cigarette (or "e-cigarette"). In the coming days and weeks, young people will be among the audience tuning in to the National Football League Divisional Championship games, Superbowl XLVIII, the 86th Academy Awards, and other high-profile broadcast events. We write to call your attention to the public health concern of youth e-cigarette use and to urge your network to avoid sending the wrong message to kids about these products.

Our view is that e-cigarettes should be subject to the same advertising and marketing rules that apply to cigarettes and that are designed to protect our children from the harms of tobacco use. We would encourage you to consider adopting these policies. At a minimum, e-cigarette advertisements should not be run during programming that attracts a large audience of children.

The popularity of e-cigarettes has increased rapidly among adolescents. This trend is particularly alarming since youth e-cigarette use serves as a gateway to a lifetime of nicotine addiction, and the full extent of e-cigarette harms is not yet fully understood. One reason for the rise in youth e-cigarette use is growing evidence that e-cigarette manufacturers are taking advantage of the absence of regulation to target youth with their advertising and marketing efforts.

We know there is debate in the public health community about the value of e-cigarettes as a substitute for conventional cigarettes among adult smokers. But whatever the merits may be among adult smokers, the potential harms of e-cigarette use -- particularly for kids -- are troubling.

Very little is known about the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use. E-cigarette cartridges typically contain nicotine -- a highly-addictive drug -- and flavoring, among other ingredients, which are delivered to the user through a battery-powered device that converts the liquid to an aerosol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that potentially harmful ingredients have been documented in some e-cigarettes, including irritants, toxins known to damage cellular DNA, and animal carcinogens.

CDC released a report last fall showing that, in 2012, 10 percent of high school students reported ever having used e-cigarettes, a rate that doubled from the previous year. The study also found that 76.3 percent of middle and high school students who used e-cigarettes within the past 30 days also smoked conventional cigarettes in the same period. The study made clear that e-cigarette use can serve as an entry point to smoking traditional cigarettes -- a notable finding since almost 90 percent of smokers initiated tobacco use as teenagers.

The United States has come a long way in decreasing smoking rates. As part of our nation's anti-smoking efforts, we have laws restricting the way companies can advertise traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products. For example, cigarettes have been banned from television advertising since 1971, and currently advertisements for cigarettes, little cigars, and smokeless tobacco are all prohibited from television.

In addition, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which we took lead roles in authoring and advancing, gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate -- for the first time -- the manufacture, distribution, and marketing of tobacco products to protect public health. With the goal of discouraging minors from smoking, the law called for restrictions on the sale and advertising of cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and roll-your-own tobacco to make these products less accessible to youth, and it also banned candy-flavored cigarettes, which appeal to younger smokers.

Unfortunately, e-cigarettes and the way in which they may be marketed and sold are not currently subject to federal oversight. We have written in the past about e-cigarette companies taking advantage of the lack of regulation by employing aggressive marketing tactics that appeal to youth. E-cigarette companies have used candy flavoring, cartoon imagery, and event sponsorships in marketing their products -- some of the very practices which are now prohibited for traditional cigarettes because they promote use among young people.

The FDA has announced its intention to issue regulations in the near future that we expect will assert the agency's role in regulating the e-cigarette industry and will be an important first step in protecting our kids. However, this rulemaking could take some time. In the meantime, we urge you and your broadcasting colleagues to take a responsible approach in your advertising that will help protect children and teenagers from the harms of e-cigarettes.

We as a nation have made such great strides in the last 50 years in reducing smoking and smoking-related death and chronic disease. We have a responsibility to protect our young people from the dangers of tobacco use, and to prevent minors from becoming addicted to a product that may reverse the important gains of the past five decades.


Frank Pallone, Jr.
Member of Congress

Henry A. Waxman
Member of Congress

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