The Food and Drug Administration today proposed a new set of rules that will make selling e-cigarettes to minors illegal, regulating the $2 billion industry for the first time.
The public has 75 days to comment on the proposed rules, which would require e-cigarette manufacturers to report ingredients to the FDA and affix a label warning that they contain nicotine, which is addictive, to each product. The FDA would also prevent companies from selling e-cigarettes in vending machines (unless they are in a place where minors are not permitted entry) or distribute free samples, and set the national minimum purchasing age of e-cigarettes at 18.
The proposed regulations would constitute a huge and much-needed change, according to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, who said that "we will have the authority as a science-based regulatory agency to take critical actions to promote and protect the health of the public." Mitchell Zeller, head of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, added that "We call the current marketplace for e-cigarettes the Wild Wild West... we will be in a position to ensure that the products are as safe as they could possibly be."
E-cigarettes, which heat up liquid nicotine that turns into an inhalable vapor, have become increasingly popular over recent years. Because they don't produce harmful tar, some see e-cigarettes as a safer way to use nicotine and a possibly effective means of lowering cases of lung cancer and other health complications associated with smoking tobacco. But others are hesitant to embrace e-cigarettes because researchers don't know the long-term effects of using them, and reports of injuries stemming from "vaping" tobacco have spiked.
Because of this, some say that the possible regulations don't go far enough, especially when it comes to kids. Not included in the proposal are bans on advertising to children or restrictions on flavored products, often seen as a way to attract underage users, or any regulations on online sales. A spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Vince Willmore, told Reuters that the proposal "by no means does everything we think needs to be done." He added, however, that it's a good start, saying "What is critical now is that they finalize this rule and then move quickly to fill the gaps."
If passed, the rules would mark the first extension of FDA tobacco oversight to include e-cigarettes and a number of other tobacco products, like cigars, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels, water pipe tobacco and hookahs, for the first time. Currently, the FDA can only set rules for cigarettes, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco. Per usual, if the regulations are approved, it would still be a matter of years before the public could expect to see changes in how e-cigarettes are sold.