Public health officials are piling up the pressure on the U.S. government to hastily regulate and bar access to e-cigarettes after new research data showed use tripled among high school and middle school teens last year.
The data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday raised worries among health authorities who warn e-cigarettes will build a new generation of nicotine addicts who will eventually turn to smoking conventional cigarettes.
Cigarette use fell more than a quarter over the same period. E-cigarette advocates explained the data could indicate e-cigarettes are steering young people away from traditional cigarettes, a theory denied by tobacco control advocates.
The Food and Drug Administration is the regulatory body of cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco. It proposed to expand its authority to e-cigarettes, among other products, in 2014.
FDA spokesman Michael Felberbaum announced on Friday the agency is “moving forward to finalize the rule.” Its purpose is to release it in June, but a delay is very probable. The agency was sent more than 135,000 public comments on the move and must review them all, in accordance to the law.
The proposal must be reviewed by the Department of Health and Human Services. The next step is the approval of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, which studies the potential economic consequences of the new regulation.
OMB has not yet obtained the rule, and when it does, it has at least 90 days to approve it.
The proposal would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to people who are under the age of 18. Also, approval of new products will require FDA approval. Public health officials have also demanded a ban on flavored tobacco products, but also on internet sales and television advertising, which they claim attract children.
The agency has announced the rule would be the first step in a series of potential future rulings.
Some states are moving to set restrictions of their own. Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer pushed forward a proposed legislation that would offer the Federal Trade Commission the right to determine what constitutes marketing to children, a step which would allow the FTC to collaborate with states’ attorneys general to impose bans.
At least 43 states have laws that restrict e-cigarettes sales to minors and some are targeting to incorporate e-cigarettes into clean air acts that ban smoking in public places.
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