Being large and ponderous, the federal government tends to move slowly but glaring problems can rouse it to action. That is what happened with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which belatedly has decided to regulate electronic cigarettes as logic and need both demanded.
E-cigarettes do have some benign uses, such as providing an alternative for smokers who no longer wish to smoke conventional tobacco products. As they emit water vapor, not dirty smoke, they are cleaner and more socially acceptable than traditional cigarettes. But that has never been an argument against FDA regulation.
Adults should be free to “vape” if they want, but the same does not apply to young people. Although e-cigarettes are not conventional cigarettes — the reason why the FDA has not regulated them — these battery-powered devices deliver doses of nicotine and other additives similar to the real thing.
Worse yet, the makers of e-cigarettes have been targeting the young, using the same tricks — such as kid-appealing flavors — that hooked new customers for the tobacco industry in the bad old days. A recent investigation by Democratic members of Congress found that manufacturers are giving away samples at music and sports events and advertising on radio and TV shows with youth appeal.
This is intolerable. While the practice is relatively new and studies aren’t complete, the available evidence does suggest that vaping is a gateway to young people taking up smoking. Why wouldn’t it be? Nicotine is addictive no matter how it is delivered.
Belatedly, the FDA has recognized that the scourge of tobacco use has found a way to make a comeback. As part of its implementation of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the agency has proposed new rules to cover additional tobacco products that are unregulated, including e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and water pipe (or hookah) tobacco.
The rules, which will be open for public comment for 75 days, will set minimum age and identification restrictions to prevent sales to underage youth, require health warnings and limit vending machine sales. The Pennsylvania Medical Society, which has sounded a warning on e-cigarettes, applauded these moves as anyone who cares about the nation’s health should.