The FDA Is Finally Cracking Down on E-Cigarettes

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Photo: FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

For years, the Food and Drug Administration has hinted that America's days of rampant, unregulated vaping may be numbered, and on Thursday the agency will make its first move. The FDA is imposing the first federal regulations on e-cigarettes, banning their sale to anyone under 18, adding health warnings, and requiring approval for new products. The agency's blueprint for expanding its regulatory authority over tobacco products also covers pipe tobacco and cigars. The new rules won't go into effect for months, or even years in some cases, but they're the first step in the federal battle over the dangers and benefits of e-cigarettes.

It's estimated that e-cigarette sales reached $2 billion in 2013, and the market is mostly a free-for-all. While many states have passed their own regulations, the new rules would change the business drastically, and they'll probably be challenged in court. In addition to banning sales to minors, e-cigarettes would have to carry warning labels that say they contain an addictive substance. Manufacturers would be required to disclose product ingredients, stop handing out free samples, and refrain from claiming e-cigarettes are safer than other tobacco products, unless they can show scientific evidence.

The proposal will be open to public comment for 75 days, and some regulations will go into effect once the rules are finalized. Companies will have to submit applications for pre-market review in the next two years. Products currently on the market can continue being sold during that time as long as manufactures have submitted an application.

The new rules are far less strict than those governing traditional cigarettes. The FDA's blueprint, which is hundreds of pages long, does not mention restricting e-cigarette advertising, internet sales, or flavors. Though, according to The Wall Street Journal, "FDA officials stressed the new rules are just a first step, and that regulations over added flavors remain a strong possibility."

FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said that any new restrictions "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." While some studies suggest that e-cigarettes can help people quit smoking cigarettes, others claim the gadgets and flavors are meant to be appealing to children. Mitch Zeller, the director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, said the agency is researching the issue, but "right now for something like e-cigarettes, there are far more questions than answers."