In a move it's calling "historic," the U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced the expansion of its regulatory authority to cover cigars, hookah and pipe tobacco, and most significantly for time travelers from the year 2013—the e-cigarette.
While such regulations are already established in some states (including New York), now all Americans under the age of 18 will be barred from purchasing the sometimes-explosive but always ridiculous-looking e-cigs. Customers will have to display ID, as they would for a pack of analog cancer cylinders.
"As cigarette smoking among those under 18 has fallen, the use of other nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, has taken a drastic leap," said Federal Health & Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell in a statement Thursday. "All of this is creating a new generation of Americans who are at risk of addiction. Today's announcement is an important step in the fight for a tobacco-free generation."
Yet the FDA's new rules do not prohibit or regulate the sale of flavored liquid nicotine, which has been credited as a key tool for pushing e-cigs on youths with flavor names like banana dessert, rainbow candy, and vanilla custard. The FDA banned flavored combustable cigarettes in 2009.
While the new rules leave open the possibility of banning flavors a few years down the road, the NY Times points out that the language in the new regulatory text is not explicit about a future ban.
"The concern is for at least three years, flavored e-cigarette products will remain on the market no matter how many kids are using them,” Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told the paper.
A recent Center for Disease Control study found that 13.4% of kids surveyed had vaped in the past month, versus less than 10 percent who had smoked a cigarette. In 2013-14, 80% of kid smokers surveyed by the FDA and National Institutes of Health said that they'd used flavored tobacco products in the last month.
Science suggests that e-cigs—which some advocates consider a safer alternative to combustible cigs for smokers trying to quit—contain chemicals that are harmful to human lungs. As for younger users, doctors say the nicotine in e-cigs is highly addictive and can lead to permanent brain damage.
A "juice bar" of different fruity flavors of nicotine at VapeNY in Jamaica, Queens (Gretchen Robinette / Gothamist)
Today's regulations will also require e-cig and cigar producers to register with the FDA for the first time.
Previously flexing without government oversight—and, in the case of e-cigs, reaping billions—these companies will now have to break down their ingredients and production processes in detail, and list warnings and ingredients on their packaging.
E-cigarette and cigar vending machines have been outlawed as well, and companies will no longer be allowed to give out free samples. The regulations, which were first drafted in 2014, will go into effect in 90 days.
Naturally, the business community would have preferred that e-cigarettes remain relatively unregulated.
"These final deeming regs could realistically stifle innovation, which could dramatically slow industry growth by dis-incentivizing consumer conversion from combustible cigs," Bonnie Herzog, a tobacco analyst for Wells Fargo Securities, said on Thursday in her newsletter.
"This would ultimately have a net negative impact on public health, which is clearly in direct opposition to the FDA's goal."