The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed its first-ever rules for the sale of electronic cigarettes, as well as pipe tobacco, cigars, hookah and other tobacco products.
Under the new rules, Americans under 18 would not be able to purchase e-cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco. Anyone buying such products would be required to show photo identification for proof of age. Such measures are already in effect in some states. E-cigarette companies would also have to disclose their products' makeup to the FDA and register with the government body. Packaging would also have health warning labels.
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The changes will not immediately go into effect but are the first move from the federal government to regulate such products. Future rules "will have to be grounded in our growing body of knowledge and understanding about the use of e-cigarettes and their potential health risks or public health benefits," said FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.
E-cigarettes, which deliver vaporized nicotine, are now a multibillion-dollar industry, per the New York Times. Concerns abound about their health risks.
"As a member of the American Lung Association and a member of the pulmonary [team] at Mt. Sinai I'm pretty certain that we are all in agreement that e-cigarettess are not a great thing for the country as far as health is concerned for many reasons, direct and indirect," says Dr. Neil Schachter, Medical Director of Respiratory Care at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. "It’s a tobacco product and as such can cause many of the problems that smoking cigarettes can cause. Also, because of the way it’s delivered, there may be additional hazards that we’re not totally familiar with."
"When finalized [the proposal] would result in significant public health benefits, including through reducing sales to youth, helping to correct consumer misperceptions, preventing misleading health claims and preventing new products from entering the market without scientific review by FDA," said Mitch Zeller, the director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.
Indeed, Dr. Schachter says that selling to minors is how tobacco companies find new customers.
"It’s rare that you find somebody that begins [smoking] in their 30s and 40s," he says. "The cigarette companies are not dumb. They know where their clients are. If you get children hooked on these new products youre gonna have a whole new audience that’s gonna be with them for a long time."
A 75-day comment window will now go into effect, and from there, the FDA will make a ruling, though the timing of that ruling is not known as of yet. Interested parties in favor and against the proposal will weigh in, and consumers are invited to do so too.
"Write to your congressman, write to your senator, write to your representative or directly to the FDA," Dr. Schachter says. "Anybody out there who has an opinion is encouraged to voice it."
The American Cancer Society released a statement about the regulations, calling for "swift action" on a ruling, lest the manufacturers "continue to engage in practices."
“We are pleased the FDA has taken this critical step that will subject these products to standards for the protection of public health," said John R. Seffrin, chief executive of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. "However, without swift action from the administration to finalize the rule and take the necessary regulatory steps, many manufacturers of these products can continue to engage in practices, such as advertising and use of flavors, which make them attractive and accessible to youth."
Follow Meredith Engel on Twitter at MeredithAtMetro.