Sen. Jeff Merkley takes aim at e-cigarettes

Sen. Jeff Merkley takes aim at e-cigarettes
FILE -- U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon.

PORTLAND, Ore. - Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, addressed a growing issue with parents and health professionals Friday by urging the Food and Drug Administration to exercise its power to regulate the growing e-cigarette and nicotine candy industries.

Merkley said he's trying to create momentum nationally and locally to tighten regulations and require the companies to get their products away from vulnerable minors and to force the companies to release their ingredients.

He said it's clear that the companies are aggressively targeting young customers who are more susceptible to addiction.

"All of these are designed to addict children to tobacco," he said after a meeting at the Multnomah County Building. "What the cigarette companies know is that adults don't start using tobacco. Ninety-plus percent of tobacco users as adults began as teenagers."

While the companies insist they don't market to teens, Merkley said it's obvious.

"They wouldn't have all of these fruity tootie flavors -- gummy bears and thin mints and so forth--if kids weren't walking in and buying them," he said.

Merkley said the FDA has had the power to regulate the companies since 2009, but they've been moving at what he calls a "glacial pace" to draft regulations. With the meteoric growth of alternative nicotine products, he said it's time for the FDA to go to "racetrack speed".

"We have the FDA to make sure that our kids are safe and healthy," he said, "And they have fallen down on the job."