On May 5, 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they will soon begin regulating e-cigarettes, hookah, and premium cigars in a similar way as traditional tobacco cigarettes. The new regulations will take effect in 90 days.
Currently, e-cigarettes are unregulated, meaning that there are no restrictions to how they are marketed and sold. The new FDA regulations will prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, disallow free samples of e-cigarettes, disallow the sale of e-cigarettes through vending machines, and have the manufacturer place health warnings on e-cigarette packaging. E-cigarette vendors will also need to verify the age of the consumer with a photo ID.
Debi Hudson, Respiratory Therapist and Tobacco Treatment Specialist at Indiana University Health, is optimistic about the new changes. “Those of us who work in tobacco control have long understood that e-cigarettes have the potential to cause a lot of harm,” she says. “We have been looking forward to the FDA regulating these products.”
According to Hudson, tobacco products like e-cigarettes are “as bad if not worse” than traditional cigarettes. For one, they are being marketed as a safer alternative to tobacco cigarettes, something Hudson says is untrue. “Tobacco companies market e-cigarettes as being mostly water vapor, but they're misleading the public,” says Hudson. In fact, e-cigarettes can contain high amounts of harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde, nicotine, and vegetable glycerin, all of which damage cells and can cause shortness of breath, coughing, and even seizures.
Up until now, e-cigarettes have also not been subject to FDA labeling rules, meaning that the amount of nicotine on the label may not match up with what is actually in the product. “Just because the label on a product claims it doesn't contain nicotine, doesn't mean it's true,” explains Hudson. “Supposed 'zero nicotine' vials have actually been tested at much higher concentrations than zero. There are no FDA regulations, so, as a consumer, you don't know for sure if that's what you're getting.”
So will these new regulations help the public realize how dangerous e-cigarettes are? Hudson says they'll need to wait and see. “I think we're moving in the right direction,” she says.