A New Front in the War Against Smoking

Susan M. Liss of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says marketing of e-cigarettes could undermine 50 years of progress.

Susan M. Liss is executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, April 2014
National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
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Christopher Snow Hopkins
April 16, 2014, 3:31 p.m.

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.

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