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E-cigarettes need government regulation

The Food and Drug Administration did the right thing by proposing sweeping new rules that would for the first time extend its regulatory authority to electronic cigarettes.

Congress passed a major tobacco-control law in 2009, and the agency is finally getting around to proposing regulations on an industry that is growing vapor puff by vapor puff.

People who use e-cigarettes tout their effectiveness in weaning them from tobacco. Helping smokers quit is one thing, but e-cigarettes may also be a gateway to nicotine addiction.

The FDA said the 2009 law gave it the power to prohibit sales to minors of all tobacco products that it has authority over, and that will now include e-cigarettes. (New York and other states have already banned sales of e-cigarettes to minors). But this does not address the safety of these products, which still needs close examination.

A story in The News last June reported that the Buffalo region is a “vapor hotbed” with about 15 local “vapor shops.” The number is up significantly since then.

Dr. Maciej L. Goniewicz, a researcher at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, has studied the effects of e-cigarettes since 2010. He said last year that “when compared with tobacco smoke, the concentration of toxins is very low” in e-cigarettes, but the big remaining question is the long-term effects of inhaling the nicotine vapor. He discourages nonsmokers from picking up e-cigarettes and says smokers are best served quitting without seeking alternatives.

Excellent advice.

The new FDA rules would require warning labels on e-cigarettes and require manufacturers to disclose ingredients and manufacturing processes. The FDA said it needs more research on the effects of e-cigarettes before taking tougher steps. In particular, what happens to both smokers and non-smokers nearby, who may unintentionally inhale the vapor?

It is disappointing that the FDA did not move to ban flavored e-cigarettes. Adding flavors such as bubble gum and grape increases the chances that young people will get hooked on nicotine. Worse is the failure of the FDA to restrict the marketing of e-cigarettes, as has been done with tobacco cigarettes.

The rules will not take effect for at least another year and possibly significantly longer if e-cigarette makers sue to block them.

The FDA should act swiftly the enact the new restrictions, but it should also do more to protect children and young adults from developing a nicotine addiction.