In recent months, there have been many calls to regulate e-cigs, and potentially to regulate the marketing of all sorts of vaping products, including a call last week by an FCC Commissioner in an op-ed article in USA Today.  As we wrote several months ago, these suggestions have been based in the fear that increased promotion of vaping products have led to an increase in tobacco use among children.  While the FDA has been taking efforts to crack down on flavored vaping products to reduce their appeal to kids, the makers of e-cigs still advertise, including on radio and TV.  And those advertisements bring us frequent questions about whether the FCC has rules about advertising these products.  So far, the FCC has had no real role in regulating these products.  In fact, one wonders if it really has any authority to take action against the advertising of e-cigs without Congressional action.

So far, all the limits on e-cig advertising have been imposed by other agencies – principally, the FDA.  The FDA requires a tag on all vaping ads, stating that these products contain nicotine, which is an addictive substance (see our articles here and here for more details about that requirement).  And these ads should not claim health benefits for vaping.  Given the FDA’s concern about children, any ads should also stay out of programming with a large audience of children.  Could the FCC itself do more?
Continue Reading A Call to Regulate E-Cig Advertising – What is the FCC’s Role in Regulating Advertising For the Vices?

E-Cigs and vape shops have become a new advertising category for many broadcast stations over the last few years. Unlike ads for cigarettes, little cigars, and smokeless (chewing) tobacco, which are effectively banned on broadcast stations, there are currently few Federal rules on e-cigs. Ads currently cannot make health claims about the product (so the ads cannot say that they are healthier than smoking cigarettes, nor can an ad even make the claim that e-cigs help users stop smoking). While some states have placed some additional restrictions on sales that carry over into advertising (e.g. age restrictions on sales), the Federal government, until this week, had passed on imposing more sweeping regulation on the industry.

In a “Final Rule” issued by the Food and Drug Administration yesterday (to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday), a number of new requirements were adopted for tobacco products generally, and e-cigs were included in the FDA’s definition of tobacco products. So, too were cigars, pipe tobacco and tobacco used in water pipes or hookahs – tobacco products not covered by the over-the-air advertising ban that applies to cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. The new rules have a number of implications for the e-cig industry generally, including bans on sales to those under 18 and requirements that the FDA conduct “pre-market review” and approval of any new tobacco product introduced to the market in February 2007 or later. Of particular note for broadcasters are new requirements for health warnings in advertisements for all tobacco products, including e-cigs.
Continue Reading New Federal Advertising Rules on E-Cigs and Other Tobacco Products Adopted – To Become Effective within Two Years

How do you advertise a business that sells tobacco products and has the word “cigarette” in its name? Apparently, you don’t, at least not on radio and TV stations – based on the teachings of the Public Notice released by the FCC this week, entering into a consent decree with a broadcaster. In exchange for

In a decision granting the license renewal of a noncommercial radio station, the FCC’s Media Bureau addressed a number of interesting issues – including the requirements for noncommercial underwriting announcements, whether PSAs meet a station’s public service obligations, and the ability of stations to run cigarette ads in historical radio programs from early radio days. These issues all came up in a decision to renew the station’s license despite a petition from a former manager alleging that the station had violated a number of Commission rules or policies – a petition raising all of these issues.

The $3000 fine that the FCC proposes to levy on the station was for what the FCC found to be improper underwriting announcements. Two different issues were found to violate FCC standards – one fairly straightforward, one less so. The relatively easy issue was whether the underwriting announcement by a musical group stating that it was voted “Canada’s #1 bluegrass band” made a qualitative claim. The station argued that the #1 claim was simply a statement of fact based on the vote in Canada. The FCC, not surprisingly,  found that the “#1” label, no matter how it was derived, was a qualitative claim and thus prohibited as part of an underwriting acknowledgment on a noncommercial station.   Such announcements cannot be commercial in nature – meaning that they cannot contain a call to action, price information or qualitative claims about the products or services offered by the sponsor.  See articles that we have previously written on underwriting issues: here and here and here, as well as a presentation on that issue that is discussed here.


Continue Reading $3000 Fine Against Noncommercial Station for Underwriting Violations – With Discussion of PSAs as Public Interest Programming and Cigarette Ads in Classic Radio Program

Three of the FCC Commissioners have responded to the Congressional inquiry about the Commission’s rules regarding junk food advertising about which we wrote here.  This inquiry was initiated by Congressman Ed Markey, Chairman of the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. The Congressman’s letter had urged the FCC to move quickly to implement rules limiting the advertising of unhealthy food aired during broadcasting directed to children.  The Commissioners’ responses uniformly indicate the potential for regulation, depending in part on the outcome of the activities of the industry Task Force formed at the initiation of, and with the participation by, the FCC and Congress. See our reports on the formation of the Task Force, here.  The Commissioners all note that should the Task Force fail to conclude that the industry has achieved satisfactory results through self-regulation, FCC proceedings might be required to insure that children are not unduly exposed to junk food advertisements. 

Two commissioners, Chairman Martin and Commissioner Tate, responded jointly, and indicated that the FCC could explore regulation of unhealthy food, perhaps looking at guidelines adopted in other countries as a model for US regulation.  These Commissioners’ statement even address the issue of regulating children’s programming on cable television networks, where they claim that there is much exposure to ads for junk food.  These statements make clear that this is not just an issue for the broadcast industry.


Continue Reading Commission Responds to Congressional Inquiry on Children’s Junk Food Ads