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Why Can E-Cigarette Makers Advertise?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Last week, e-cigarette manufacturer Juul announced a new advertising campaign. It's currently running full-page newspaper ads and is planning on starting commercials on television.

That had Gordon from Hilltop and Cynthia from Brooten wanting to know, how are e-cigarette makers able to advertise? Good Question.

Television and radio commercials for cigarettes have been banned since 1971. More ad restrictions came about in 1998 after the Master Settlement Agreement between tobacco companies and 46 states. Since then, there are no cigarette ads on billboards, within event sponsorships, sports sponsorships or any marketing that targets youth.

None of those ad restrictions currently exist for e-cigarettes.

"You just haven't had the regulation for non-tobacco products," said Mike Ciresi, Minnesota's lead attorney in its own suit against the tobacco companies in 1998.

E-cigarettes don't burn tobacco, but they do contain nicotine. Since 2016, the FDA has regulated e-cigarettes and it requires e-cigarette manufacturers to clearly put a nicotine warning on its ads.

The FDA has recently criticized e-cigarette companies, especially Juul, for marketing to children. In September 2018, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote, "E-cigs have become an almost ubiquitous ‒ and dangerous ‒ trend among teens." He goes on to say that nicotine can have an effect on a developing brain.

In its newest campaign, Juul targets its advertisement toward adults trying to quit cigarettes. In its materials, the company writes, "We believe Juul can accelerate cigarette displacement."

According to Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, e-cigarette companies are now voluntarily limiting their advertising. While they are not required to do so, Juul will only air its television ads after 10 p.m. on cable news.

As for why there haven't been any advertising restrictions placed upon e-cigarette manufacturers, Ciresi says it's partly because the FDA moves very slowly and requires plenty of scientifically based evidence.

Desmond Jensen, a staff attorney with the Public Health Law Center, believes another reason is the government's hesitation to put free speech restrictions on a company.

"The FDA is a little gun shy when it comes to limiting commercial speech," he said.

WCCO reached out to the FDA on Monday, but a spokesperson for the agency was unable to respond due to the partial government shutdown.

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