Rockefeller blasts e-cigs marketing, saying it makes kids think smoking is ‘cool’


Scott Fraser, vice president of SBT Co. Ltd., demonstrates an e-cigarette in Hong in 2007.  (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

Kids these days idolize teen heartthrobs like the One Direction boys and Selena Gomez. They probably don’t spend a lot of time trying to emulate silent movie stars from the 1920s.

But Sen. Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), 77 years old, is very concerned that teenagers are puffing on electronic cigarettes to look “cool” like Gloria Swanson.

Who?

If you were born any time after 1980, you probably have no idea that Swanson was a famous silent film actress at the beginning of the last century. Later in her career she starred in Sunset Boulevard, and died 31 years ago.

Silent screen star Gloria Swanson (1897 - 1983) (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Silent screen star Gloria Swanson (1897 – 1983) (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Rockefeller showed his, um, experience when making a point during a Senate Commerce hearing this week about marketing tobacco-less cigs to kids.

“You want to be cool? Well, you can actually hold one of these things and look like you’re Gloria Swanson. Was that her name?” Rockefeller said.

Members of Congress at the Wednesday hearing took e-cigarette manufacturers to task for marketing their product to youths, likening it to how tobacco companies used to promote smoking before their advertising was regulated by the Federal Drug Administration. Some lawmakers want the FDA to step in and make similar rules for electronic smokes.

The e-cigs still have nicotine in them, but they don’t have the other cancer-causing chemicals of regular ones, and were meant to help people kick their addiction. (Here’s The Washington Post’s Seven things you should know about e-cigarettes). But they come in fun flavors, which suggests that they’re more than just a bad-habit kicking tool. The act of smoking them even has a catchy name — vaping.

“Now, I’m an adult, so would I be attracted to Cherry Crush, Chocolate Treat, Peachy Keen, Vanilla Dreams? No, I wouldn’t,” Rockefeller said in his opening remarks. “Sixty years ago, I probably would have been.”

Later in the hearing, other senators showed they were more hip to the millennials. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) pointed to a blown-up May 13 tweet from NJoy, an e-cig manufacturer, showing Twilight hunk Robert Pattinson smoking one its product. The senator charged that the tweet was clearly designed to appeal to teenagers. Craig Weiss, president of NJoy, an e-cig manufacturer, denied that, saying Pattinson is a 28-year-old adult smoker. (The tweet appears to have been deleted.)

Sen. Amy Klobachur (D-Minn.) pushed back, asking Weiss whether he’d ever seen the Twilight movies and then telling him sharply that it’s kids,  mostly girls, who watch them. “Do you think (Pattinson) really appeals to me or Sen. Blumenthal … ?” she asked.

“Again, I’ll just repeat what I said earlier, that he is an adult smoker. We’re trying to appeal to adult smokers,” he said.

If he’s trying to appeal to adults, may we suggest he consider using images of Gloria Swanson?

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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