Our View: Putting out the e-cig wildfire is a good first step

04/24/2014 6:22 PM

04/24/2014 6:23 PM

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s proposed rules for electronic cigarettes, released Thursday after months of waiting for a White House review, are a good first step in policing this lawless multibillion-dollar industry.

The FDA regulations would forbid the sales of electronic cigarettes to minors, require the nicotine-delivery devices carry warning labels and mandate that their ingredients and method of manufacture be detailed and registered before they are allowed to be used by the public.

Public health advocates have recommended these reasonable steps in the absence of hard data about the use of the battery-powered lookalike cigarettes.

The rules will take effect at least 30 days after a 75-day public comment period, though it could take longer. The FDA shouldn’t let the rules linger any longer than necessary. Use of these devices is exploding, and the health of millions of users, many of them teenagers and unwitting bystanders, is at stake.

Federal regulators should follow up quickly with a second step. That would be to stop e-cigarette companies from marketing the nicotine products to kids and to banish television ads for them altogether.

Local and state governments must remain involved, too, enacting bans on vaping in public places where appropriate and using the same guidelines as those restricting tobacco-burning cigarettes.

E-cigarettes use water vapor to deliver nicotine rather than by the combustion of leaves. But anyone who has been to a vaping bar knows that there’s a mist of unknown content emitted during the vaping process that can be inhaled by nonusers.

While the first set of rules will go a long way toward quality control for adult users, they will be undermined if e-cigarette makers aren’t stopped from marketing and advertising aimed at young people. Though it will be illegal to sell e-cigarettes directly to minors or in vending machines, it won’t stop online sales or block other ways that kids can get the products if they’re determined. E-cig companies, many of which are traditional tobacco companies such as Lorillard, Reynolds American and Altria and Philip Morris USA, are counting on this.

Candy and dessert flavors of liquid nicotine clearly are intended to appeal to kids. FDA officials said Thursday they need to research how flavors entice kids before they suggest new rules. Perhaps a glimpse of the recent past would help. These same companies have deliberately tried to hook children on their cancer-causing tobacco products for generations and know exactly what they are doing. Joe Camel, anyone?

Advertisements for e-cigarettes already can be viewed on cable TV stations. In ads for Blu e-cigarettes, for example, actors Jenny McCarthy and Stephen Dorff talk up the benefits of vaping such as the freedom to smoke anywhere and how it doesn’t make your hair or clothes stink.

Supporters of e-cigarettes protest that the FDA rules are overkill, that the devices will save more lives by helping tobacco smokers switch to a less-carcinogenic habit.

We say, show us the data. Very little is known about these products – what’s in them, who is using them and how – and whether vaping will act to encourage or discourage traditional tobacco smoking. Until there are credible long-term studies, e-cigarettes must be treated the same as their fiery cousins – as a public health risk.

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