Role of FDA and Electronic Cigarettes

Prior to August of 2016, the United States Food and Drug Administration had no authority over electronic smoking devices. However, the law has now changed, providing the FDA with the ability to regulate the manufacture and sale of all of these products. These changes are expected to alter the electronic smoking device industry considerably, which has led to serious backlash from key industry players.

Understanding the New Regulations

Thanks to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the FDA has been able to regulate tobacco, smokeless tobacco, cigarette tobacco and cigarettes since 2009. After this law was enacted, retailers were no longer able to sell smokeless tobacco or cigarettes to people under the age of 18. This law did not address electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). Unfortunately, once members of this young demographic became unable to buy traditional tobacco products, many of them turned to electronic smoking devices. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the use of e-cigarettes among high school and middle school students rose by 900 percent from 2011 to 2015.

In order to combat this issue, the FDA was granted authority to impose regulations on all electronic nicotine delivery systems. This includes e-pipes, vape pens, vaporizers, hookahs and e-cigarettes. The goal of this law is to reduce the incidence of nicotine use among younger people in the United States by restricting the manufacture, marketing and sale of these potentially dangerous products. Beginning on August 8, 2016, retailers are prohibited from selling any tobacco product, including electronic smoking devices, to people under the age of 18. To ensure compliance, this law requires retailers to check the photo identification of anyone who attempts to buy a tobacco product and appears to be under the age of 27. The law also prohibits retailers from selling tobacco products in vending machines, with the exception of machines located in adults-only establishments. Furthermore, manufacturers of tobacco products are now required to register their products with the FDA and disclose all of the included ingredients and associated health risks.

Backlash from the Industry

As expected, the e-cigarette industry is strongly opposed to this new law. The industry has enlisted a large number of lobbyists to fight against the regulations, arguing that limiting the availability of electronic smoking devices will actually be harmful to public health. They assert that e-cigarettes are safer than traditional products containing nicotine and that they improve people’s lives. The industry complains that these new regulations will force e-cigarette companies out of business.

The FDA recognizes that the industry’s claims of the advantages of electronic cigarettes over other tobacco products may be valid. However, it maintains that regulation is necessary in order to prevent manufacturers from marketing their products unscrupulously, making false claims and targeting young consumers. In addition, the FDA raises concerns about certain ingredients in electronic cigarettes that may be dangerous to consumers, including diethylene glycol, as well as the potential for burns.

Looking Forward

At this time, the new regulations restricting the manufacture and sale of electronic smoking devices have already gone into effect. However, it is important to note that products that were already being sold on or before February 15, 2009, are exempt from these requirements. Meanwhile, the debate over the fairness and practicality of the law continues.