The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will extend its authority to regulate all tobacco products, it announced today, which will include popular items like e-cigarettes and hookah tobacco.
The new rule builds on the 2009 Tobacco Control Act laws and extends the term "tobacco product" to include e-cigarettes, vape pens and other similar devices that may never touch actual tobacco leaves but that are intended to deliver aerosolized doses of nicotine. It also means the FDA can regulate cigars, pipe tobacco and shisha tobacco used in hookah water pipes. Retailers will not be allowed to sell e-cigarettes and other products to anyone under the age of 18, and all sales to 26 and under will require checking a photo ID.
Up until now, the FDA has only been able to regulate cigarettes, cigarette-related products and "smokeless tobacco" that can be snorted (snuff) or chewed (dip).
"As a nation, we've agreed for many years that nicotine does not belong in the hands of children," said Sylvia Burwell, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, in today's press conference. "Every death caused by nicotine is preventable."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 20 percent of American citizens aged 18-24 had tried e-cigarettes, the largest percentage of any measured age group. And while cigarette, pipe and cigar use has dropped significantly, according to the CDC, the percentage of middle- and high-schoolers who smoke e-cigarettes rose 900 percent from 2011 to 2014. Hookah use has also risen during the same time period.
This new authority, which Burwell described as a "drastic leap," will take effect in August, and will be the first time the federal government has regulated the e-cigarette market; all but four states and the District of Columbia have restricted the age of who can buy e-cigarettes.
What does this mean for companies who are already selling pens, liquid nicotine and other related products? If the manufacturers brought their products to market after Feb. 15, 2007, they'll have to submit applications to the FDA, and the agency will then determine whether the products may carry any additional health risks. The rule doesn't slam the door shut on the current economic sector, though — products can still be sold for two years while applications are submitted, and then for a third while the applications undergo review.
The e-cigarette industry has argued it provides a less damaging nicotine alternative due to the lack of tar and smoke in its products, and that e-cigarettes may help those trying to quit smoking cigarettes.
E-cigarettes have been controversial for some time; two recent studies identified significant health risks with their use, and the UK's Royal College of Physicians, while not negating their own health risks, recently recommended using the devices to help quit cigarettes.
"We're protecting our nation's children and teenagers," said Burwell. "And helping adults get the information they need to make informed choices about tobacco and nicotine use."