The federal government has now moved to regulate the booming e-cigarette industry, by banning electronic cigarette sales to minors and requiring all tobacco products, including the liquids used in e-cigarettes, to undergo government review. E-cigarettes, along with similarly categorized devices such as vaporizers and vape pens, will be regulated as tobacco products because they use a liquid containing nicotine.
Here are some questions and answers about how the Food and Drug Administration’s new rule will affect consumers:
What does the FDA’s rule do?
The FDA will now regulate all tobacco products including e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco and pipe tobacco. The agency already oversees cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco products.
The rule bans sale of all types of tobacco products to people younger than 18, requires photo identification for buyers younger than 26, prohibits sales in vending machines (except those in an adult-only facility) and prohibits the distribution of free samples.
The rule also requires that all products carry warnings that they have nicotine, an addictive chemical. Virtually all e-cigarettes and any new tobacco products will have to seek marketing authorization from the FDA. Products sold before Feb. 15, 2007, are exempt.
When does the new rule take effect?
In stages. The ban on the sale to minors takes effect Aug. 8. That will primarily affect only Michigan and Pennsylvania. The other 48 states already ban sales of e-cigarettes to people younger than 18. Coincidentally, California Gov. Jerry Brown this week signed legislation that will raise the legal smoking age in his state from 18 to 21, prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in many public places and ban the marketing of e-cigarettes to children. The law takes effect June 9, making California the second state to raise the legal smoking age to 21, following Hawaii.
the prohibitions on distributing free samples and vending machine sales will also take effect Aug. 8, and retailers will be required to ask consumers to show photo identification.
The warning-label requirements will take effect in May 2018.
Products already on the market could remain so for up to three more years. That’s because manufacturers have two years to submit product applications to the FDA for review, and the FDA has an additional year to finish the evaluation.
Why is the FDA taking this action?
While the rate of cigarette smoking has declined in the past decade among adults and youth, the use of other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, continues to climb. A survey supported by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that in 2014, 1 in 4 high school students and 1 in 13 middle school students reported being tobacco users, meaning they had consumed one or more tobacco products in the previous 30 days. That’s 4.6 million youths.
The survey also indicated that current e-cigarette use among high school students surged from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 13.4 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, hookah use rose significantly, from 4.1 percent to 7.2 percent.
What could be next?
According to the rule, the FDA intends to target flavored cigars for regulation next. Consumer advocates have long wanted the FDA to ban flavored e-cigarettes and cigars.
How dangerous are e-cigarettes?
Research has not provided a full answer yet.
The e-cigarette consists of a battery, a heating element and a cartridge that contains a liquid suspension containing nicotine. When a user inhales from the cartridge, the liquid is heated and a vapor is emitted. The nicotine is obtained from tobacco plants.
In 2009, an FDA test on a small number of e-cigarette samples found “detectable levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals to which users could potentially be exposed.” However, in 2010, a court ruled that “the FDA had cited no evidence to show that electronic cigarettes harmed anyone.”
Research is still being conducted to determine whether e-cigarettes lead people to start using traditional tobacco products or help them quit smoking. Recent research found that teens who used e-cigarettes were more than three times as likely as other to smoke traditional cigarettes a year later.