After months of speculation, the Food and Drug Administration proposed new rules on Thursday to extend its authority to regulate the sale of electronic cigarettes. The rules would ban the sale of e-cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco to kids under 18 and require purchasers to present photo ID.
Importantly, the proposed rules do not include restrictions on flavors, a ban on Internet sales to adults or a prohibition on television advertising.
Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog said in an email the proposal isn’t “as bad as feared” and is “positive for the industry.”
Some health experts weren’t as pleased.
“The tobacco companies won. The rule is very weak,” said Stanton Glantz, professor at the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at University of California, San Francisco.
“It’s nice they are asserting authority over these products but anything meaningful is years and years away because this whole process will have to play out and take a long time.”
As Fusion’s investigative team reported back in October, e-cigarette entrepreneurs are essentially allowed to mix and sell whatever they want, combining toxic nicotine liquids with other products often in back rooms and secret warehouses.
The jury is still out on whether e-cigarettes are safe or not. The FDA approves some of the ingredients they use for human consumption, but when mixed with nicotine, vaporized and inhaled it may be a different story.
What we do know is that consumers of e-cigarettes have complained about them to the FDA, citing concerns about everything from exploding batteries to throat irritation and increased heart rate.
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the number of reported e-cigarette devices and liquid nicotine exposure cases — inhaling vapor, nicotine overdose and other hazardous experiences — went up 218 percent from 2012 to 2013.
In California, which makes up roughly 10 percent of the national data from American Association of Poison Control Centers, Poison Control San Diego Director Lee Cantrell says they have seen a dramatic increase in nicotine exposure cases in the last three years.
From 2013 to February 2014, 129 cases have been reported in California, of which 59 involved children five years old or younger. In 2012 in California, they saw far fewer cases — 19 — with 7 of those cases involving children ages 5 or younger.
“With kids, they imitate their parents; they activate the e-cigarettes and take a puff,” Cantrell said. “The bottles are screw-off tops. We need child resistant packaging, warnings. Right now there is none of that. There is nothing.”
Cantrell says the proposed regulations will have no impact on reducing the number of accidental poisonings he is seeing from electronic cigarettes.
"There's no mandate for safety,” he said. “There is still nothing with respect to child resistant packaging. I think it’s a step in the right direction, but as far as having a positive impact on unintentional poisonings, I don't see it accomplishing that goal.”
Federal officials say it could take more than a year for the rules to go into effect. Once in place, the rules would bring some oversight to the e-cigarette market, which until now has gone completely unregulated. Under the proposed rules, makers of electronic cigarettes would have to provide the FDA with a full list of ingredients used in the product, as well as details about the manufacturing process.
For Stanton Glantz, the proposed rules do not go far enough.
“The best you could say is they are setting up a system where years from now they could do something else,” he said. “There’s nothing in here that I’ve read so far that will lead to real public health benefit in the short term.”
Dan Lieberman is a special correspondent focusing on criminal justice, law enforcement, and drug stories. His work has also been featured on ABC News “Nightline” and Univision's "Al Punto."