WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Senate Democrats introduced the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2020, comprehensive legislation to stop tobacco companies from targeting youth with marketing schemes, and to curb the rise in the use of tobacco and e-cigarette products among youth. Brown is leading the legislation, and the legislation is sponsored by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Kamala Harris (D-CA). Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL) introduced the House version of the bill, which was marked up in the House Energy and Commerce Committee in November 2019.
According to a report from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was a 78 percent increase in current e-cigarette use by high school students and 48 percent increase among middle school students from 2017 to 2018. The introduction of the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2020 follows Congressional action to increase the federal minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 years of age, which passed into law at the end of 2019. While increasing the minimum age to purchase tobacco products – including e-cigarettes – is a positive step forward, increasing the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21 is not sufficient to curb the youth smoking epidemic. The Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2020 recognizes that much more must be done in order to turn the tide in this public health crisis and reduce youth use of tobacco and other nicotine-containing products, including a prohibition on any flavored tobacco product that has not been approved by the FDA.
Specifically, the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2020 would address the increase in youth tobacco use by:
- Requiring the FDA to finalize a rule requiring graphic health warnings for cigarette packages by March 2020, consistent with a federal court order;
- Extending FDA regulations on the sale, distribution, and use of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to all deemed tobacco products, including e-cigarettes;
- Directing the FDA to prohibit non-face-to-face sales of all tobacco products including e-cigarettes and e-cigarette accessories;
- Prohibiting all characterizing flavors of tobacco products, including menthol;
- Providing the FDA with the authority to collect user fees from all classes of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes;
- Instructing the FDA to issue a final rule on the regulation of products containing synthetic nicotine or nicotine that is not made or derived from tobacco;
- Clarifying the penalties for non-enforcement of the newly passed tobacco 21 law, and differentiating between retailers that offer an approved training program for employees related to the restrictions on sale and distribution of tobacco products to minors;
- Providing the CDC with the authority to do outreach to medically underserved communities on ways to educate and provide guidance on nicotine addiction prevention and smoking cessation, and requiring the CDC to establish a grant program to develop strategies for smoking cessation in medically underserved communities;
- Making it unlawful to market, advertise, or promote any e-cigarette products to individuals under the age of 21, consistent with the recently passed federal tobacco 21 law; and,
- Requiring the FTC to issue an annual report to Congress on the domestic sales, advertising, and promotional activity of cigarette, cigar, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarette manufacturers.
“Big Tobacco has managed to reverse a major public health victory – years of steadily declining youth tobacco use – by deceptively marketing e-cigarettes to kids,” said Senator Whitehouse. “This bill puts more protections in place to prevent highly addictive tobacco products from getting into the hands of children and teenagers.”
“Tobacco companies have preyed on youth for years, irresponsibly advertising and marketing their harmful products to teens,” said Senator Brown. “It’s time to put a stop to these marketing schemes, hold these companies accountable, and prevent highly addictive tobacco and e-cigarette products from getting into the wrong hands.”
“For years, tobacco and e-cigarette companies have been given free rein by the FDA to pursue a massively successful strategy of addicting a new generation on nicotine,” said Senator Merkley. “We know that these corporations have been using social media influencers and candy-inspired flavors to intentionally lure kids in middle and high school into a lifetime of addiction. It’s time for Congress to stand up for public health and accountability, and I’m urging my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join us in that fight.”
“Tobacco and e-cigarette companies are continuing to aggressively target our nation’s youth in their advertising and marketing, addicting yet another generation of Americans to deadly products. This bill would provide the FDA and CDC with the necessary authority and tools to stop these predatory tactics, helping to put an end to Big Tobacco’s death grip on our teens’ health and well-being,” said Senator Blumenthal.
“Too many lives have been cut short by the dangers of tobacco, and with the drastic increase in youth e-cigarette use, it is essential that we use all available authorities to protect the public’s health against this deadly menace. This bill would take the essential step of prohibiting the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol products, which are particularly attractive to children,” said Senator Markey.
“Our nation is in the midst of a vaping epidemic that has now hooked five million kids—an increase of 135 percent over the past two years of the Trump Administration,” Senator Durbin said. “We can’t allow Big Vape and Big Tobacco to continue addicting an entire generation of kids to nicotine. Today’s bill would get rid of the flavors that are largely to blame for the rise in youth use of e-cigarettes, crack down on the vaping industry’s targeting of our children, and hopefully reverse the trend of increased youth e-cigarette use.”
“We need a comprehensive approach to prevent youth smoking and protect kids from harmful nicotine products. The tobacco and vaping industries know how addictive and dangerous their wares are. But for too long, they’ve been blowing smoke at kids and misleading them about health risks. This bill would help stop kids from becoming addicted to nicotine, improve public health, and save taxpayers money in the long run,” said Senator Reed.
“The rise in e-cigarette products threatens years of hard work countering dangerous tobacco marketing and reducing youth tobacco use,” said Senator Cardin. “This bill takes a great step toward averting a repeat of history by using federal resources to hold these companies accountable and prevent another generation of children from getting hooked.”
A number of organizations have endorsed the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2020, including the American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American College of Cardiology, American Heart Association and the National African American Tobacco Prevention Movement.
“We applaud Senator Brown for his leadership in working to stop tobacco companies from targeting kids. The bill’s prohibition on flavored tobacco products that appeal to kids, including flavored e-cigarettes of all types, flavored cigars and menthol cigarettes, is especially critical to stop tobacco companies from continuing to target and addict kids with enticing flavors,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
“The American Lung Association strongly supports Senator Brown’s ‘Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic’ legislation. Now more than ever it is clear that Congress must lead the effort to protect our nation’s youth from tobacco products, and this legislation will fill that need. We call on the Senate to take up and pass this legislation in 2020,” said Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association.
“This bill squarely addresses the rising epidemic of youth tobacco use that is putting millions of our nation’s kids at risk for nicotine addiction. The bill’s comprehensive approach would pull all flavored tobacco products, including menthol, from the market within a year and require e-cigarette companies to pull all flavored products without pre-market authorization from the Food and Drug Administration from the market within 30 days. The bill also would prohibit tobacco companies from advertising their products to individuals under age 21 and implement strong restrictions on the marketing of e-cigarettes. We urge swift passage of this important bill and stand firm against any attempts by the tobacco industry to weaken the bill’s intent,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association.