Apr 24, 2014 1:43 AM by Chelsea DeCesare
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed asserting its authority over new tobacco products today, including e-cigarettes, flavored cigars and nicotine gels.
It's a basic first step, extending the FDA's regulatory power, but the rule would immediately make e-cigarettes off-limits to kids under 18 and would require makers to tell the agency what's in their products.
"They would have to report to us the constituents of their products and also how they are making them," said FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.
But the agency does not propose, for now, limiting Internet sales or television advertising.
Congress gave FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products in 2009, but the law didn't include e-cigarettes and certain other products. The legislation also does not allow FDA to ban tobacco products outright, but it can limit sales and marketing and require warning labels.
Public health experts have been clamoring for FDA to extend its authority as e-cigarettes have exploded in popularity."It's like the wild, wild West," Hamburg said. "Companies can do whatever they want and they can market however they want."
Use of e-cigarettes, called "vaping", has taken off in a big way, with sales hitting an estimated $2 billion in 2013. An e-cigarette product ranges from $10 to $120, depending on how many charges it provides.
The little metal or plastic tubes that look like cigarettes have been around in some form since 1963, but only became popular within the past decade. Now more than 250 brands have proliferated.
The new regulations would extend limits that are currently on cigarettes to other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. That means makers will have to register with FDA and disclose what is in them.
"We expect that the industry won't be delighted," Hamburg said.
E-cigarette enthusiasts say vaping is far safer than smoking cigarettes, and some experts say that may well be the case. Cigarettes and other tobacco products contain hundreds, if not thousand of chemicals, and companies were known to add chemicals to enhance flavor and to make the products more addictive.