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FDA Issues First Regulations On Electronic Cigarettes


The Obama administration announced today it will for the first time regulate electronic cigarettes. It's imposing a sweeping set of new restrictions on the increasingly popular products. Here's NPR health correspondent Rob Stein.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: E-cigarettes look a lot like regular cigarettes, but instead of burning tobacco, they heat up of a fluid that contains nicotine and produce a vapor that users inhale to get a nicotine fix. They've become wildly popular, especially among younger people. And Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell says that's a huge problem.


SYLVIA BURWELL: Millions of kids are being introduced to nicotine every year - a new generation hooked on a highly addictive chemical.

STEIN: So the Food and Drug Administration is formally asserting its authority over e-cigarettes and making a long list of demands on the companies and shops that make and sell them. Many of the new rules are aimed at keeping kids away from e-cigarettes.


BURWELL: Today we are taking a significant step. We're protecting our nation's children and teenagers.

STEIN: The FDA's imposing the first nationwide ban on selling e-cigarettes to minors. Anyone who tries to buy e-cigarettes will have to prove they're old enough, and the devices won't be available anymore in vending machines. And that's not all. Robert Califf, who heads the FDA, says the agency's also taking steps to protect adults using the devices.


ROBERT CALIFF: Today's action is a huge step forward for consumer protection.

STEIN: E-cigarette companies will now be required to disclose the ingredients in the liquid that produces the vapor people inhale. Researchers think e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes and could help save lives by helping people kick the habit, but the chemicals in e-cigarettes have long been shrouded in secrecy.


CALIFF: Importantly, the rule also will allow the FDA to evaluate how the products are made and their potential impact on public health.

STEIN: By requiring e-cigarette companies to formally apply to the FDA for approval to sell their devices and provide details about how they're made and how they work. But the new rules are being condemned by the e-cigarette industry.

TONY ABOUD: They're a big problem for the vapor industry and they're a big problem for American public health.

STEIN: Tony Aboud is with the Vapor Technology Association. He says the FDA's demands will cost so much that many companies will simply go out of business.

ABOUD: People are in fact using these products to get off of tobacco cigarettes. So if you eliminate the product essentially from the market by making it impossible for any companies to actually comply and keep their products on the market, the product which is showing the first signs of putting a real dent in tobacco smoking will be yanked out of their hands.

STEIN: But the new rules are being welcomed by public health experts like Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

MATTHEW MYERS: The Obama administration today has taken a critical first step to protect America's kids from a whole new generation of tobacco products.

STEIN: But Myers and others say the FDA should do more like ban candy flavors in the vapor fluids that appeal to kids and get rid of all those snazzy TV ads featuring celebrities vaping.

MYERS: We have seen TV ads for e-cigarettes using the exact same kind of imagery that the Marlboro cowboy used decades ago to link e-cigarettes with adolescent desires to be strong, sexually attractive, virulently independent and rebellious.

STEIN: The FDA did also announce new rules about cigars, hookahs and pipe tobacco and says even more restrictions on e-cigarettes are possible down the road. Rob Stein, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.