The Food and Drug Administration proposed Thursday to regulate electronic cigarettes. The move would fill a gap in the agency’s oversight which this year has inspired state and federal legislation from Connecticut policymakers.
Electronic nicotine delivery systems are not currently regulated by the government and there are no rules prohibiting the sale of the products to children. However, the FDA has announced plans to extend its authority over traditional cigarette products to their electronic counterparts.
If the plans are approved, e-cigarettes makers would be subject requirements like minimum age restrictions, health warning, and reporting of product ingredients. According to an FDA press release, the plan would also extend its authority over other traditional tobacco products like cigars and hookahs.
“Tobacco-related disease and death is one of the most critical public health challenges before the FDA. The proposed rule would give the FDA additional tools to protect the public health in today’s rapidly evolving tobacco marketplace, including the review of new tobacco products and their health-related claims,” Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said in a press release.
The proposed rules will be open for public comment for 75 days. The agency is seeking input on the public health impact of products like e-cigarettes “that do not involve the burning of tobacco and inhalation of its smoke, as the agency develops an appropriate level of regulatory oversight for these products.”
The unregulated status of e-cigarettes has prompted legislation this year from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation.
Last month, Malloy proposed to ban the sale of any electronic nicotine delivery device or vapor product to anyone under the age of 18 in Connecticut.
“Electronic cigarettes are currently not regulated by the federal government and there is currently no age restriction to sell, give, or possess electronic cigarettes in Connecticut,” he said. “With this legislation . . . we’re joining the 27 states that have already prohibited the sale of e-cigarettes and other related devices to minors.”
Samaia Hernandez, a spokeswoman for Malloy, said the FDA’s proposal does not eliminate the need for the governor’s bill, which could be implemented more quickly than the federal proposal.
“These are just proposed regulations. They still need to go through the entire process of public comment and approvals, which could take months – and even years, to actually get implemented,” she said in a statement.
The bill has been approved by three legislative committees and awaits action in the state Senate.
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal have also sought legislation on the issue. They held a press conference earlier this month where they compared the marketing tactics of e-cigarette manufacturers to the Joe Camel-era of tobacco marketing.
The federal lawmakers are pushing bills which prohibits anyone from marketing e-cigarettes in a way that will increase use among kids. Both lawmakers indicated they believe the sale of certain flavors—like bubblegum—fit that bill.
Esty released a statement Thursday praising the FDA’s move to regulate the devices.
“I applaud the FDA for taking an important step to restrict the sale of e-cigarettes to minors across the country and require health label warnings. Currently, e-cigarettes are entirely unregulated by the federal government and are being advertised to kids with cartoons and bubblegum flavors. E-cigarettes need to be responsibly marketed and properly regulated to prevent another generation of Americans from being addicted to nicotine,” she said.
However, Blumenthal was not impressed by the FDA’s proposal. He released a statement calling the draft regulations “too little and too late.”
“Instead of comprehensive, robust rules the FDA has offered a loophole-ridden skeleton—timid and tepid in restricting relentless marketing of smoking to children,” he said. “… While FDA has finally taken preliminary action on the agency’s ability to regulate all tobacco products, the reality is that flavored cigars, nicotine candies, and e-cigarettes will all remain on the market as products that entice children and continue addiction until further action is taken.”