They may sound like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavors — Cherry Crush, Chocolate Treat, Peachy Keen, Grape Mint — but these are all products designed by e-cigarette manufacturers to appeal to young smokers.
“This is just one more pernicious attempt to encourage young people to take up these products,” said Susan M. Liss, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, on the phone Wednesday. “E-cigarettes look just like regular cigarettes. Having that glamorous, sexy image presented to kids on a regular basis with no regulation really has the potential to undermine 50 years of work since the surgeon general released his report.”
On Monday, 11 Democratic members of Congress released an investigative report detailing the marketing practices of e-cigarette makers and urging the Food and Drug Administration to issue e-cigarette regulations.
“In the absence of federal regulation, some e-cigarette manufacturers appear to be using marketing tactics similar to those previously used by the tobacco industry to sell their products to minors,” the report said.
For Liss, it was just another indication that e-cigarettes — battery-operated devices that convert liquid nicotine and other additives into an aerosol — may do more harm than good in the battle against conventional cigarettes. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study that showed e-cigarette use among students in grades 6—12 had doubled between 2011 and 2012.
“This report underscores the urgent need for the Food and Drug Administration to regulate e-cigarettes and take action to prevent their marketing and sales to kids, as it is authorized to do under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act,” Liss said in a statement earlier this week. “The FDA stated more than three years ago that it planned to assert jurisdiction over e-cigarettes and all other tobacco products, and it sent draft regulations to the White House Office of Management and Budget more than six months ago. But these regulations have yet to be issued.”
Liss, who has worked as an attorney in Washington since the late 1970s, comes to the issue having lost two members of her family to tobacco-related illnesses. Her mother-in-law, who smoked multiple packs a day, died of throat cancer when her late husband, Jeffrey F. Liss, was 10 years old. “That event shaped their entire family life,” said Susan Liss, who has never smoked herself.
In 2007, Jeffrey Liss died of pancreatic cancer, a disease that has been linked to second-hand smoke. He was 55.
Born in Baltimore, Liss, 62, studied English at the University of Michigan and received a law degree from Georgetown University in 1977. Asked why she entered the public-policy space, Liss is unabashedly idealistic: “A lot of our generation was really influenced, after the Watergate era, by the notion that you could really do well at improving society by becoming a lawyer and using those skills to pursue equality and justice and protection for vulnerable people.”
Earlier in her career, Liss served as deputy assistant attorney general for policy development in the Clinton administration and as chief of staff to then-first lady Tipper Gore. From 2001 to 2004, she was executive director of the Project on Medical Liability in Pennsylvania — a joint project of the Columbia University Law School and the Pew Charitable Trusts — followed by a stint as director of federal relations for the commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Before arriving at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Liss was director of the Democracy Program at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice.