The FDA announced Thursday that it would regulate e-cigarettes for the first time.
No one seems particularly impressed by the new effort.
Public health advocates and analysts agree that the proposed rules will do little to constrain the billion-dollar market for these products, which allow users to inhale nicotine through a vapor. And e-cigarette trade groups are overall on board with the rules.
The health risks of e-cigarettes are not well understood, and many people believe the products work as a gateway to more traditional cigarette smoking, particularly among children. The proposed rules would ban sales of e-cigs to minors and require manufacturers to provide a list of ingredients to the agency. But health advocates say there's still plenty of room to tacitly market the products to kids -- a standard Big Tobacco strategy -- and also as a complement or introduction to smoking.
E-cigarette makers would still be allowed to sell their products in kid-friendly flavors like bubble gum, and the proposed rules still permit TV ads and Internet sales, provisions that health experts say make it easier to get the e-cigs into the hands of kids and teenagers.
The Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association, an e-cigarette advocacy organization, wrote in a statement that they "welcome a ban on access to anyone under 18." But they said they oppose any restrictions on flavor, claiming they're "important to the consumer experience."
The FDA took more than four years to propose these regulations, which are 241 pages long. They're open to public comment for 75 days, and then it will take time to implement the final rules.
“I don’t know what took the FDA so long to come up with this,” said Neil Schluger, the chief of pulmonary, allergy and critical care medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. “One can sort of imagine the battle going on here. On the one hand there are public health groups representing the interests of millions of people, versus tobacco groups with billions of dollars.”