The Food and Drug Administration has proposed the first-ever regulations to tame the “Wild West” of electronic cigarettes, as some tobacco-control groups have called it.
After a 75-day comment period, the new rules are expected to set the age limit for buying e-cigs at 18, ban their sale in vending machines, and introduce labels warning of the potential for addiction to nicotine. E-cig manufacturers would also have to register their products and report their ingredients to the FDA. The proposed measure would also affect pipes, hookahs, and cigars.
For those unfamiliar, e-cigarettes are those things that make it look like their user is sucking on a very cold ball-point pen. They’re filled with a water, nicotine, and propylene glycol solution, which gets heated by a battery and inhaled.
There are now more than 250 varieties of e-cigs, and their manufacturers netted sales of over $2 billion in 2013. The percentage of high school students who have tried e-cigs doubled from 4.7 to 10.0 percent between 2011 and 2012, according to the CDC. Only about 6 percent of adults have tried them.
One reason e-cig sales had time to skyrocket like this—other than their rising stature among hipsters—was that the FDA has only had the power to regulate tobacco products since 2009. They’ve spent the intervening years battling tobacco companies in court over other rules the agency has attempted to enact.