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5 Facts About E-Cigarettes and the FDA: No, It's Not a Ban

The FDA has proposed extending its authority to e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and other tobacco products. A few facts.
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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."