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posted: 5/28/2014 5:01 AM

E-cig marketing leaves a bad taste

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  • AP file photoThe government should move faster on regulating how e-cigarettes are marketed to children.

    AP file photoThe government should move faster on regulating how e-cigarettes are marketed to children.

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Mmmm. Thin Mint. Tootsie Roll. Cinnamon Toast Crunch. All those brands evoke a strong sensation of flavor and, for many people, especially young people, an urge to want a taste.

And that's just what the makers of flavored electronic cigarettes want you to feel. They've used those names -- favorite brands geared toward children -- to help sell their liquid nicotine.

It's shameful and needs to stop immediately.

Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration hasn't acted yet on banning fruit and candy flavors while it continues studying the health effects of e-cigs, which are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating a vapor that users inhale.

But thankfully the owners of those brands are taking charge themselves, according to an Associated Press story in Tuesday's Daily Herald. General Mills Inc., the Girl Scouts of the USA and Tootsie Roll Industries are some of the companies that have sent cease-and-desist letters to the liquid nicotine makers.

"Using the Thin Mint name -- which is synonymous with Girl Scouts and everything we do to enrich the lives of girls -- to market e-cigarettes to youth is deceitful," Girl Scouts spokeswoman Kelly Parisi told the AP.

"We're family oriented. A lot of kids eat our products. We have many adults also, but our big concern is we have to protect the trademark," said Ellen Gordon, president and chief operating officer of Tootsie Roll Industries Inc.

It's especially galling as the e-cigarette makers try to establish a foothold by claiming their products are safe and actually a deterrent to smoking cigarettes. Yet, a ban is in place on candy and fruit flavors for tobacco cigarettes.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois has been at the forefront in Washington to push for regulations of the industry. Earlier this month, he and seven other Democratic senators called on the FDA to examine new research that some electronic cigarettes can produce dangerous carcinogens similar to traditional cigarettes.

It's crucial that we protect our children from being lured into trying a product that could be a gateway to smoking or, if those new claims are true, be a health danger like smoking.

In addition, some local schools report electronic cigarettes are being used by some teens to smoke a liquefied form of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

The FDA needs to move at a quicker pace. The alarm bells are sounding all over the country -- from schools to health professionals to congressmen and now the business community. Until those regulations are in place, however, parents and consumers in general need to pay attention to the debate and make some informed decisions on whom they trust. Consider this while doing so: one executive in the e-liquid business explained away the latest controversy over flavors by saying these companies are evolving -- transforming from "wild entrepreneurs" to those with "real corporate ethics." Clearly, that evolution is far from complete. In the meantime, the companies need close and critical scrutiny.

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