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FDA proposes new regulations for e-cigarettes

Citing efforts “to make the next generation tobacco-free,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed new rules Thursday for e-cigarettes that would regulate the devices in a manner similar to traditional cigarettes.

The new rule would require manufacturers of e-cigarettes –- battery-powered gadgets that produce an inhalable nicotine-vapor, rather than the smoke of burning tobacco –- to register with the FDA, disclose their ingredients, and label their products with nicotine warnings. The rule would also ban retailers from selling these products to minors and prohibit companies from giving out free samples.

The rules would also apply to previously unregulated smoking products, including cigars, nicotine gels, and pipe and waterpipe (hookah) tobacco, components of what Mitchell Zeller, director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, calls “today’s rapidly evolving tobacco marketplace.”

Nothing seems to represent this new tobacco landscape better than e-cigarettes, an increasingly popular smoking alternative, which have been the subject of heated debates over their appeal to minors and their impact on the overall industry. Sales are expected to reach $2 billion this year, about 2 percent of the overall U.S. tobacco market.

The new regulations diverge from those over traditional cigarettes in a few key ways: They do not limit sweeteners or fruit flavoring, which some critics believe may lure children, and they do not restrict online sales.

“The FDA’s proposal does nothing to [rein] in the Wild West marketing of e-cigarettes to kids,” said Stanton Glantz, head of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco.

But others welcomed the FDA’s announcement, including Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who called the news “long overdue.”

Commencing April 25, the proposed rule will be open to a 75-day public comment period, after which time FDA will issue a final ruling.