Electronic cigarettes will be regulated as a tobacco product under wide-ranging, final new rules announced Thursday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which also will oversee other previously uncontrolled products such as cigars and hookah tobacco.
The e-cig industry, which went unregulated until Thursday, has mushroomed in recent years from a quirky product enjoyed by a small group of devotees to a multibillion-dollar industry that has swept across the age spectrum. Young “vapers” have been enticed with flavored products and increasingly fancier delivery wands. In the early years of their evolution, the electronic devices were disposables resembling cigarettes. Now they’re sold in a wide variety of colors and trendy configurations.
Reaction to the new rules, which bar the sale of electronic cigarettes to people 18 and younger, was swift and laudatory from the medical community, which for years had advocated for federal regulation of both e-cigs and the dizzying number of cigar products.
Until Thursday, cigars, cigarillos, pipe and hookah tobacco also had persisted unregulated, but now will fall under FDA oversight. Purchasers will have to show proof of legal age before a sale is final.
Some retailers of electronic cigarettes saw the new rules Thursday as detrimental to their industry.
“The regulations are really kind of stupid,” said Aaron Klauschke, owner Cloudtronix Vapor Lounge in Sayville. “I don’t sell to minors. I have had tons of kids come in here and try to buy from me, and I tell them, no all the time. This store is my livelihood I would not get shut down for something stupid like that.”
The new rules carry strong stipulations, however, that take effect within 90 days. All businesses that produce e-liquids and other e-cig products will have to register with the FDA.
Under the directives, owners must disclose to the FDA all ingredients and include information on how their products are manufactured. Much of the e-liquid chemistry has been in the hands of shop owners, who add nicotine, caffeine and flavorings based on customer preferences, experts said Thursday.
“Up until now it has been the wild, wild West,” said Michael Seilback, vice president of policy and communications for the American Lung Association’s division in Hauppauge. “We’ve seen use of these products by youths skyrocketing at alarming rates,” he said of e-cigs and other nicotine-containing products. “High school boys smoke cigars at the same rates as cigarettes.”
Seilback called the new federal oversight, contained in a 500-page policy directive, “common sense regulation for a major public health problem.”
Patricia Folan, director of Northwell Health’s Center for Tobacco Control in Great Neck, was equally enthused about the new FDA guidance on electronic cigarettes and other previously unregulated nicotine and tobacco products.
“This is something that tobacco-control advocates have been asking for,” Folan said Thursday, adding that cigars have prevailed in the marketplace for decades without the government warnings and public service messages that often accompany cigarettes. “Manufacturers could say anything they wanted,” Folan said.
As for e-cigarettes, Folan’s center opposes them as smoking cessation devices because that kind of product usage has been pushed by the electronic cigarette industry and not driven by scientific research, she said.
Folan, a nurse practitioner and member of the American Thoracic Society, wrote to the FDA during the period it accepted comments before finalizing its new policy. She said that she underscored the public health danger of e-cigarettes and other products in the marketplace without the benefit of federal regulation.
The cigar industry, she said, has worked overtime producing a vast array of seductive flavorings aimed at youngsters: cigars infused with such flavorings as cookies-and-cream; chocolate; bubble gum and Captain Crunch.
“Believe it or not, there are 7,000 flavors,” Folan said.
Melissa Page, operations director of the Henley Vaporium in Manhattan said the new rules would not greatly affect her shop’s business. The shop was cited last year by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for violating New York’s law requiring childproof containers.
“If you look under 35 in our shop,” Page said, “you will have to show ID.”