More than two years after the Food and Drug Administration first said it would propose rules on regulating electronic cigarettes, the agency still hasn't taken action. In the meantime, the number of people using e-cigarettes—which deliver a vaporized form of nicotine via liquid cartridges heated by a battery—has skyrocketed: U.S. sales are projected to reach $1.5 billion in 2013, triple the amount from 2012.
There are other signs of e-cigs' growing popularity. Celebrities are now showing up in e-cigarette ads. And more than 100 companies are vying for a share of the skyrocketing e-cig market. Perhaps most tellingly, Big Tobacco is getting into the game, either buying smaller e-cigarette companies or creating their own offshoots, like Philip Morris’s MarkTen and RJ Reynolds’s Vuse.
So why is it taking the FDA so long? Several reasons.
The FDA had set a target date of October 2013 to release its proposed rules to the public. But the partial government shutdown in late September and early October likely delayed the process. The agency did get a proposed rule sent in mid-October to the federal Office of Management and Budget, which will review the rule before it's released for public comment.
The specifics of the rule are mere speculation at this point, but at the very least the agency is expected to redefine “tobacco product” to include e-cigarettes, thus bringing them under the same federal oversight that applies to cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, chewing tobacco, and roll-your-own tobacco. That could subject the gadgets to the same requirements for ingredient disclosure, manufacturing quality, and restrictions on sale to minors that apply to conventional tobacco products.