U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called two e-cigarette executives “what’s wrong with this country in a Senate Commerce Committee hearing yesterday in Washington, D.C. Photo by Senate.gov.

The impact of e-cigarettes, debated yesterday in Washington, D.C., by the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, boils down to one highly controversial question: Will their usage positively or negatively impact the nation’s overall health? Evidence suggests that the nicotine products may or may not be a tobacco cessation tool, and recently the Food and Drug Administration proposed to extend its authority to tobacco authority to regulate them.

One prominent opinion, well-held by policymakers and health advocates, is that the predominantly youth-targeted advertising of e-cigarettes is dangerous.

“A number of questions are being asking about just how these products should be regulated, especially how they can and cannot be marketed,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., at the committee hearing. “I also think we would all agree that children should not be able to purchase these products.”

Data from RTI International and the Florida Department of Health show that adolescent exposure to e-cigarette ads on television rose 256 percent from 2011-13. Additionally e-cigarette use doubled among middle- and high-school students from 2011 to 2012.

APHA recently sent to Congress on e-cigarette marketing in support of legislation protecting children from e-cigarette marketing.

Along with South Dakota, many cities — including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York — have placed strong restrictions on e-cigarette “vaping,” especially among and around children.

The hearing included testimony from executives from two popular e-cigarette manufacturers, Jason Healy of blue Cigs and Craig Weiss of NJoy. Both maintained that their products were not directed at children, though their words were criticized by several members of Congress, including Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

“I’m ashamed of you,” Rockefeller said. “I don’t know how you get to sleep at night, what gets you up in the morning, except the color green. You’re what’s wrong with this country.”

This hearing can be viewed in its entirety at Senate online.