FDA Cracks Down On E-Cig Industry, Prohibits Sales To People Under 18

By Dorri Olds 05/16/16

Before this ruling, there was no federal law prohibiting retailers from selling e-cigarettes to those under 18.

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FDA Cracks Down On E-Cig Industry, Prohibits Sales To People Under 18

The FDA ruled on May 5 that all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, e-hookahs, e-cigars, vape pens, e-pipes and refillable vaporizers, will require government approval, mandating companies to submit applications for every new product. Large tobacco companies will be bruised, but not ruined. U.S. e-cigarette sales are now estimated at $2 billion and are expected to rise 24.2% per year through 2018, according to Fortune. Small businesses, however, could fold under the financial constraints.

The FDA’s ruling is final and many folks feel it was long overdue. At last week’s tobacco press conference, Sylvia Burwell, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, introduced the FDA's ruling. “We have more to do to help protect Americans from this dangerous addiction,” she said. “And that is especially true for our youth. As cigarette smoking among those under 18 has fallen, the use of other nicotine products, and especially e-cigarettes, has taken a drastic leap.”

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell announcing new regulations at a press conference last week.

There has been a growing concern about children’s exposure to liquid nicotine. Stats for 2011 through 2015 show that the amount of high school students who smoked e-cigarettes climbed over 900%.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine refills are responsible for a large number of calls to poison centers, many of them due to accidental exposures in children. Between 2013 and 2015, the number of children under six who were affected has risen by an alarming 1,500% and one child even died.

Prior to the May 5 announcement, there was no federal law prohibiting retailers from selling e-cigarettes or hookah products to people under age 18. The new ruling changes that with provisions aimed at restricting youth access, which go into effect within the next three months.

The FDA granted companies a two-year deadline for submitting applications. The agency will then review the application, which could take an additional year, before they either approve or deny the company marketing authorization for the product.

“The rule is a welcomed starting point,” said Dr. Benard P. Dreyer, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “but it is only a framework upon which to build meaningful regulation to end the tobacco epidemic in the United States once and for all.” 

He went on to say, “[The] FDA passed up critical opportunities in this rule by failing to prohibit the sale of tobacco products coming in flavors like cotton candy, gummy bear and grape or to prevent marketing tactics that target children.”

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Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and several book anthologies. Find Dorri on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.