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FDA extends tobacco oversight to e-cigarettes, bans free samples to minors

By Allen Cone
FDA extends tobacco oversight to e-cigarettes, bans free samples to minors
An e-cigarette with bottles of liquid nicotine. Photo by Bohbeh/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, May 5 (UPI) -- The Food and Drug Administration has gained regulatory oversight over all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, in efforts to bar youth access to vending machines and free samples.

Previously, the FDA only regulated cigarettes and cigarette-related products and smokeless tobacco. The change also includes cigars, little cigars, hookah and pipe tobacco.

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The new regulation was finalized Thursday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, giving the FDA authority over sales, marketing and manufacturing of all tobacco products.

It goes into effect on Aug. 8, 2016.

RELATED U.K. doctors recommend vaping as a way to quit smoking

Starting on that date, the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products can stop e-cigarette manufacturers from making unproven health claims and marketing to minors. The nationwide minimum age of sale is 18. Also, the distribution of free samples of e-cigarettes and all other tobacco products is prohibited.

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The FDA sought to ban the sale of e-cigarettes in 2010 but a court ruled the agency had not cited evidence of harm. The agency said a study found detectable levels of carcinogens and toxic chemicals in samples.

"This action is a milestone in consumer protection -- going forward, the FDA will be able to review new tobacco products not yet on the market, help prevent misleading claims by tobacco product manufacturers, evaluate the ingredients of tobacco products and how they are made, and communicate the potential risks of tobacco products," the FDA said in announcing the changes.

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The announcement drew a welcome response from the American Lung Association.

"Too many children and teens are using e-cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products," said Harold P. Wimmer, national president and CEO of the American Lung Association. "The American Lung Association welcomes this long-awaited step to protect public health."

The association had been concerned about the use of e-cigarettes by youth.

"Youth use e-cigarettes more than any other tobacco product on the market today, serving as an entry point to more traditional tobacco products and placing kids at risk to the harms and addiction of nicotine and other tobacco products," Wimmer said. "Ending the tobacco epidemic is more urgent than ever, and can only happen if the FDA acts aggressively and broadly to protect all Americans from all tobacco products."

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A survey released last month by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows e-cigarette use among high school students climbed from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015.

E-cigarettes were the most used tobacco product among U.S. middle and high school students in 2015, with an estimated 3 million middle school and high school users.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered and turn nicotine into an inhalable liquid vapor. Nicotine can be addictive but e-cigarettes don't have chemicals and tars from burning tobacco.

An analyst with Wells Fargo estimates the e-cigarette market totaled $3.5 billion last year.

A doctors group in the United Kingdom is now recommending e-cigarettes be among the tools used to help people quit smoking cigarettes, pointing to "vaping" as less of a risk to health than inhaling the burning fumes of tobacco. The Royal College of Physicians issued the recommendation with acknowledgement that the full risks of nicotine vaporizers remain unknown, aside from the fact that e-cigarette liquid contains fewer carcinogenic chemicals than cigarettes.

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