With the Food and Drug Administration’s publication of sweeping new e-cigarette and vaping regulations, a tipping point finally appears to have been reached.
Thursday’s new rules, which the e-cigarette and tobacco companies have fought ferociously since 2011, came less than a day after Gov. Jerry Brown signed similar restrictions in California and a high court cleared the way for tough e-cigarette regulation in the European Union. They’re not a moment too soon.
The devices have soared in popularity, threatening to undo a generation of public health work. A recent survey supported by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently showed e-cigarette use among high school students had shot up from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent last year, an increase of more than 900 percent.
Meanwhile, biased and mixed research has made it hard to know whether nicotine vapor has risks of its own, or whether vaping and e-cigarettes can help regular smokers wean themselves from a deadly habit. Because makers of e-cigarettes will now be required to register and disclose their manufacturing processes and scientific data, Americans may at last get some good answers under FDA rules.
The vaping industry has for too long been ‘the wild, wild West,’ as the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products succinctly put it on Thursday.
The regulations aren’t perfect. They do ban e-cigarette and hookah sales to minors, both in person and online, and require photo identification for purchase. And they will end the pernicious practice of handing out free samples at events where young people gather.
But they don’t address the issue of kid-friendly flavors, and there are real concerns that the compliance costs will put mom-and-pop vape shops out of business and drive the industry further into the arms of Big Tobacco. That’s something to watch in the three-year window the FDA has given companies to submit applications for approval; small businesses should be protected, particularly if e-cigs turn out to save lives.
Overall, though, this new era is welcome. The vaping industry has for too long been “the wild, wild West,” as the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products succinctly put it Thursday. It’s high time the sheriff arrived.