NAPLES, Fla.- Electronic cigarettes or "e-cigs" seem to be everywhere, but companies that manufacture them are under fire for marketing towards children. Parents say flavors like peanut butter and bubble gum are attractive to teens. The FDA banned flavored cigarettes in 2009, and some hope the government agency will extend that to include e-cigs.
The Food and Drug Administration plans to set marketing and product regulations for electronic cigarettes as early as next month. But for now almost anything goes. Companies are using bus stop displays, sponsoring race cars and events, and encouraging smokers to "rise from the ashes" and take back their freedom in slick TV commercials featuring celebrities like TV personality Jenny McCarthy.
Ken Egan of Naples says his teenage son picked up "vaping" recently. Electronic cigarettes deliver nicotine by heating it with water which creates a smoke-like vapor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says electronic cigarettes appear to have fewer toxins compared to traditional cigarettes.
So far, there's not much scientific evidence showing e-cigarettes help smokers quit or smoke less, and it's unclear how safe they are. But the marketing tactics are raising worries that the devices' makers could tempt young people to take up something that could prove addictive.
"Most people are not aware that there are tobacco companies, large tobacco companies that are behind vapor cigarettes, and they are the ones that are benefiting. They're profiting from it, and they're being marketed to our kids," Egan said.
Representatives for Altria, the parent company of the largest tobacco company say they support FDA rules, but that e-cigs should not be categorized with traditional cigarettes.
"E-cigarettes do not actually have any tobacco in them. They don't burn, so they are a very very different product, and we think the agency should take that into consideration," Communications Director David Sylvia said.