WASHINGTON &mdash The federal government on Thursday announced sweeping new rules for electronic cigarettes that will for the first time require the devices and their ingredients to be reviewed.
It's a mandate that could offer some protection for consumers and upend a multibillion-dollar industry that has gone largely unregulated.
Before brands are allowed to stay in the market, regulators would have to check the design, contents and flavor of the fast-growing devices, which have found a foothold with teenagers.
"Millions of kids are being introduced to nicotine every year, a new generation hooked on a highly addictive chemical" Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said. "We cannot let the enormous progress we've made toward a tobacco-free generation be undermined by products that impact our health and economy in this way."
The rules issued by the Food and Drug Administration would also extend long-standing restrictions on traditional cigarettes to a host of other products, including e-cigarettes, hookah, pipe tobacco and nicotine gels. Minors would be banned from buying the products.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that turn liquid nicotine into an inhalable vapor. They lack the chemicals and tars of burning tobacco, but the cigarettes have not been extensively studied, and there's no scientific consensus on the risks or advantages of "vaping."
More than 15 percent of high school students report using e-cigarettes, up more than 900 percent over the last five years, according to federal figures.
Sale age set at 18
Beginning in August, retailers will be prohibited from selling the tobacco products to anyone under 18, placing them in vending machines or distributing free samples. While nearly all states already ban sales of e-cigarettes to minors, federal officials said they will be able to impose stiffer penalties and deploy more resources to enforcement.
For now, the nation's estimated 20 million e-cigarette users may not see big changes. Companies have two years to submit their information to the FDA and another year while the agency reviews it. Government officials said this process is critical to taming the "wild west" marketplace for the products.
"Today's action is a huge step forward for consumer protection," said FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf. "With this rule, the FDA will be able to prevent misleading claims and provide consumers with information to help them better understand the risks of using tobacco products."
The FDA action comes five years after the agency first announced its intent to regulate e-cigarettes and more than two years after it floated its initial proposal.
Public health advocates applauded the decision."Ending the tobacco epidemic is more urgent than ever, and can only happen if the FDA acts aggressively " said Harold Wimmer, the President of the American Lung Association.