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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decided — belatedly — to regulate electronic cigarettes, as logic and need demanded.
E-cigarettes have 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. E-cigarettes are not conventional cigarettes; that’s why the FDA has not regulated them. But the battery-powered devices still deliver doses of nicotine and other additives.
Worse, makers of e-cigarettes are targeting young consumers, using the same tricks — such as kid-appealing flavors — that hooked new customers for the tobacco industry in the bad old days. Manufacturers are giving away e-cigarette samples at music and sports events, and advertising on radio and TV shows with youth appeal.
Although the practice is relatively new and studies aren’t complete, the available evidence suggests 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.
The FDA finally has recognized that the scourge of tobacco use has found a way to make a comeback. As part of its enforcement of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the agency proposes new rules to cover tobacco products that are unregulated, including e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and water pipe (or hookah) tobacco.
The rules are open for public comment for 75 days. They set minimum age and identification restrictions to prevent sales to underage youth, require health warnings, and limit vending machine sales. Anyone who cares about the nation’s health should applaud these moves.