By Bill Trott
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of urban health officials on Thursday urged the Food and Drug Administration to go beyond the regulations it proposed last week for e-cigarettes and treat them like regular cigarettes.
In an open letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, the Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC) noted that the FDA has nothing in its proposed regulations that would govern the advertising of e-cigarettes, which it said often targets the youth market.
The FDA did propose banning sales of e-cigarettes to those under the age of 18.
The e-cigarette industry, estimated at $2 billion and growing, did not object loudly to last week's proposed FDA rules, which many health officials found too loose.
According to the BCHC, there were "gaps" in the rules that need to be filled.
"We urge you follow our lead and use your full authority to apply all current tobacco regulations to e-cigarettes," public health officials representing 11 of the biggest U.S. cities said in their letter. "The FDA must move quickly to address the growing concern about youth use beyond setting a minimum age requirement to purchase e-cigarettes."
Battery-powered e-cigarettes contain a cartridge that is filled with a nicotine-laced liquid, which is vaporized and then inhaled. Advocates say they are safer than standard cigarettes because they do not produce lung-destroying tar.
But the BCHC said e-cigarettes also deliver dangerous chemicals and carcinogens, adding that the level of nicotine indicated on e-cigarette labels is not always correct.
The federal government has restricted traditional cigarette advertising, including banning television ads, but there are no such limitations in the FDA's proposed e-cigarette rules.
The BCHC said big tobacco companies, such as Reynolds American Inc, Lorillard Inc and Altria Group Inc, are boosting their advertising budgets, which could be risky for teenagers.
"E-cigarette advertisements regularly employ youth-oriented marketing strategies that the tobacco industry used decades ago such as celebrity endorsements and messages that associate smoking e-cigarettes with themes like freedom, rebelliousness and glamour," the coalition said.
Richard J. Smith, a spokesman for Reynolds American, which makes the VUSE e-cigarette, said his company does not target the youth market and limits its television advertising to programs viewed primarily by adults.
Some local governments have placed restrictions on e-cigarettes, but the BCHC said uniform nationwide regulations are needed.
The FDA's proposed rules, which require a health warning on e-cigarettes and ban vending machine sales and free samples, are subject to a public-comment period of 75 days.
The letter to Hamburg was signed by public health officials from New York, Los Angeles County, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and San Jose, California.
(Reporting by Bill Trott; editing by G Crosse and Leslie Adler)