The Food and Drug Administration has proposed extending its authority to e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and other tobacco products. It’s just a first step and not a final rule yet. Here are five things you need to know about the announcement:
It’s not a ban
Congress gave the FDA power to regulate tobacco in 2009, but not the power to ban its use. FDA wasn’t happy about the decision and is worried that regulating such products implies that they are safe.
These products aren’t safe
Cigars and pipe tobacco carry just about the same risks as cigarettes do, but have caused less harm because users tend to smoke them less often and inhale less deeply, and because so many fewer people use them than use cigarettes — although their use is growing. E-cigarette makers and “vapers” will argue that these products are safer, but that doesn’t mean they are completely safe, either.
“We just don’t know,” says FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg. Nicotine is enormously addictive and inhaling the propylene glycol in e-cigs can affect the lungs.
What's inside? Anyone's guess
The regulation would require companies to tell the FDA what’s in their products, but they don’t have to tell the public. Some products do carry labels, but they don’t have a complete list. For instance, Logic Power Series Menthol flavored e-cigarettes say they contain: Propylene glycol, glycerin, water, nicotine, terpineol, methylfurfural, vanilla extract, vanillin and menthol. But there might be other ingredients, says Logic president Miguel Martin.
Keep away from kids
The rules would limit the sale of all the products — electronic cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco and nicotine tablets — to people 18 and older, although some states may set that at age 21. They would also forbid giving out free samples. But they don’t limit Internet sales or advertising, and health advocates fear it’s the TV ads that are making these products explode in popularity.
The rules won’t take effect for a while
Thursday’s announcement opens a 75-day public comment period, after which the FDA will think about it some more and might make changes. Hamburg says she’s not able to give a time estimate for when the rules might be final. In the meantime, she says, it's "the wild, wild West."
First published April 24 2014, 9:03 AM
Maggie Fox is senior health writer for NBC News and TODAY, writing top news on health policy, medical treatments and disease.
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She's a former managing editor for healthcare and technology at National Journal and global health and science editor for Reuters based in Washington, D.C. and London.
She's reported for news agencies, radio, newspapers, magazines and television from across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe covering news ranging from war to politics and, of course, health and science. Her reporting has taken Maggie to Lebanon, Syria and Libya; to China, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan; to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia and to Ireland and Northern Ireland and across the rest of Europe.
Maggie has won awards from the Society of Business Editors and Writers, the National Immunization Program, the Overseas Press Club and other organizations. She's done fellowships at Harvard Medical School, the National Institutes of Health and the University of Maryland.