WASHINGTON • After years of debate about the health risks of electronic cigarettes, the United States federal government made it final: They need to be regulated and kept out of the hands of children.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued sweeping new rules that for the first time extend federal regulatory authority to e-cigarettes, banning their sale to anyone under 18 and requiring that adults under 26 show a photo identification to buy them.
The long-awaited regulations, 499 pages of them, shifted the terms of the public debate over e-cigarettes, putting the federal government's heft behind a more restrictive approach to the devices.
Many health experts fear that e-cigarettes will eventually hook a new generation on traditional cigarettes, while others worry that a tougher approach will make it harder for addicted smokers to get access to devices that may be their best hope of quitting.
"We've agreed for many years that nicotine does not belong in the hands of children," secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell said on Thursday.
E-cigarettes were introduced about a decade ago as devices that deliver nicotine without the harmful tar and chemicals that cause cancer. They have since grown into a multibillion-dollar business, with nine million American adults using them, and while most health experts agree that they are less harmful than cigarettes, little is known about their long-term effects.
The rules, which take effect in 90 days, have broad implications for public health and the tobacco industry. They subject producers to federal regulation for the first time, requiring them to register with the FDA and provide it with a detailed account of their products' ingredients and their manufacturing processes. Producers will also have to apply to the FDA for permission to sell their products. That includes vape shops that mix their own e-cigarette liquid.
The move was applauded by public health experts, who said the industry needed oversight and who had been waiting nearly seven years for the agency to provide it. But it infuriated many e-cigarette companies, which argued that the rules would crush smaller producers that could not afford the time and lawyers to complete an arduous federal applications process.
Electronic smoking devices, including e-cigarettes, are banned in Singapore. Offenders may be fined up to $5,000.
NEW YORK TIMES