The Food and Drug Administration announced today new regulations that will tighten the sale and use of e-cigarettes and other battery-operated vaping devices such as vape pens.

The rules focus especially on preventing children and teens from using e-cigarettes. Consumer Reports considers this is a win for consumers.

“Giving the FDA the authority to regulate e-cigarettes is a laudable first step, and these regulations aim to better protect children,” says Consumer Reports chief medical adviser Marvin M. Lipman, M.D. “But further measures are needed to fully protect consumers,” he says.

New E-Cig Rules

The new regulations mean big changes for the booming multi-billion dollar e-cigarette industry, which includes widely distributed products such as Vuse (made by the large tobacco company R.J. Reynolds), NuMark (made by Altria, another tobacco company), and Blu (owned by the Imperial Brands tobacco company).

Under the new rules, manufacturers will have two years to apply for approval from the FDA for all e-cigarette products that came on the market after Feb. 15, 2007. (The new rules do not apply to products introduced before then.) That will allow the agency to better evaluate the safety of e-cigarette ingredients.

Also requiring approval will be the batteries used in the devices, which are believed to have caused explosions and fires resulting in serious injuries. In addition, as of Aug. 8, 2016 manufacturers will no longer be able to distribute free samples of their products.

The new rules also mean changes for retailers who sell e-cigarettes. Also as of Aug. 8, retailers nationwide:
• Cannot sell e-cigs to people under the age of 18, either in stores or online.
• Must ask for a photo I.D. for in-store purchases.
• Are not permitted to have e-cig vending machines except in “adults only” establishments such as bars and casinos.

"The rule puts an important framework in place to help keep children away from e-cigarettes, and allows the FDA to protect children in ways that other agencies cannot,” says William Wallace, policy analyst for Consumers Union, the advocacy and policy arm of Consumer Reports.

This current action by the FDA comes on the heels of the Child Nicotine Poisoning Prevention Act, a new law taking effect this summer that was backed by Consumer Reports. It will require child-resistant packaging on liquid nicotine containers.

“Keeping highly toxic liquid nicotine out of the hands of very young children is critical,” Lipman says, “The brightly colored packaging can be attractive to toddlers, for whom one teaspoon can be fatal.” 

E-Cigarette Industry Reacts

The vaping community is not pleased by the FDA’s actions.

These new rules will “cause a modern day prohibition of products that are recognized worldwide as far less hazardous than cigarettes,” says Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, an industry trade group. “Absurdly, ex-smokers will face the prospect of having to purchase products that help them remain smoke-free on the black market.”

However, Consumer Reports’ Lipman points out that the FDA is not proposing removing e-cigarettes from the market, it only seeks to regulate them. In addition, evidence that e-cigarettes help people stop smoking is far from conclusive and, in fact, some research suggests that teens who take up e-cigs are more likely to start using traditional cigarettes, too.

New Rules Don’t Go Far Enough

This long-awaited and welcome oversight is good news for consumers, but still has room for improvement.

For example, the new rules don’t ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, which come in such child-friendly tastes as bubblegum, watermelon, and popcorn. “These seem designed to attract children, which raises a big red flag,” Lipman says.

Erika Sward, assistant vice president at the American Lung Association agrees. She points out that traditional cigarettes are prohibited from being flavored, except for menthol, and new rules ban the sale of flavored cigars, too.

The new rules also don’t prevent manufacturers from marketing e-cigarettes on television or online—even to children.

“Restricting sales to persons 18 years and older while continuing to allow the marketing and sale of flavored e-cigarette products is like waving forbidden candy in the face of a toddler,” Lipman says. He points out that nicotine is a powerful addicting chemical and the long-term effects of e-cigarettes require long-term studies. There's still a lot we don't know and need to know before the use of these devices can be condoned.”