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Boxer, other Senators, push for scrutiny of e-cigarettes

The proliferation of e-cigarettes is coming under increasing scrutiny from lawmakers at various levels of government.
The proliferation of e-cigarettes is coming under increasing scrutiny from lawmakers at various levels of government.

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E-cigarettes are coming under more government scrutiny.

On Wednesday, half a dozen Democratic U.S. Senators, led by California's Barbara Boxer, asked for a federal investigation into the marketing practices of electronic cigarettes.  They want the Federal Trade Commission to punish companies that make false or misleading claims in their advertising.

In a letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, the Senators said as public health experts learn more about the health and safety implications of e-cigarettes, "it would be beneficial to disseminate to the public information about the marketing of these products and to investigate companies that conduct false, deceptive, or misleading advertising and hold them responsible to the full extent of the law.”

The Senators also want information about the marketing of e-cigarettes to kids. They cite a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found e-cigarette use among middle and high school students more than doubled in a year. One in ten in this age group say they use the electronic smoking devices. In their letter, the senators said they're concerned about "the potential risk that they may lead young people to try other tobacco products."

It's estimated that sales of e-cigarettes will double this year, to $1.7 billion, and that they could outsell tobacco products within a decade.

Washington isn't the only place politicians are concerned about the growth of e-cigarettes. Earlier this month, the Los Angeles City Council adopted a ban on selling e-cigarettes to minors. The city is also considering a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in the same places where tobacco products are prohibited.

“We know that e-cigarettes contain harmful ingredients,” said L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer.  “Until they are proven safe we need to take action.”

In California, more than three dozen cities and counties have passed laws regulating electronic smoking devices.

The Electronic Cigarette Industry Group has said it supports keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of children, but manufacturers are aggressively marketing the product as a healthier alternative to tobacco.