Sen. Charles Schumer touted a bill Sunday designed to prohibit advertising and promoting e-cigarettes in a way that would appeal to children.
The bill, which Schumer is co-sponsoring, is focused on what he said were questionable marketing tactics clearly aimed at youngsters by offering bubble gum- and cotton candy-flavored versions of the nicotine-laced devices, commonly called e-cigarettes.
"We've made so much progress in getting kids not to smoke," said Schumer, who expressed concern about the unknown health risks. "But now, e-cigarettes threaten that progress."
Tobacco use among teens in the five boroughs has remained flat at 8.5 percent since 2007, according to the city's health department.
Electronic-cigarette companies say the plastic devices are less harmful than regular cigarettes since they don't have tar, tobacco or smoke, but a study by the American Medical Association journal, Pediatrics found they get adults and underage smokers more addicted to regular cigarettes because they contain nicotine. About 10 percent of high school students say they have tried e-cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The FDA doesn't regulate e-cigarettes because they don't contain tobacco. Advertisements for the devices are not regulated by the FCC.
"Manufacturers of e-cigarettes repeatedly say they don't market to kids, but their actions say differently," said Susan Kennedy, director of the Tobacco Action Coalition of Long Island.
Schumer's bill has several co-sponsors, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and anti-tobacco advocates are optimistic that it will make an impact.
Michael Seilback, of the American Lung Association, said the federal government needs to be tougher on the manufacturers to sustain the progress the country has seen in reducing the number of smokers.
"They need replacement smokers if they want to keep their industry afloat," he said of the tobacco companies.
Last year, the City Council banned e-cigs for those younger than 21 and prohibited their use inside restaurants, bars and public parks.