WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration issued a proposed rule Thursday that would extend its regulatory authority to electronic cigarettes.
If adopted, the “deeming” rule would limit sales of e-cigarettes on Internet websites and through vending machines open to children. It also could lead to further restrictions on candy flavorings that some critics say are part of a marketing strategy aimed at youth.
FDA said it is looking for additional research on the long-term effects of flavored tobacco product usage. In particular, it is concerned that young people who use these products may turn to more traditional tobacco products.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said Thursday that he plans to sit down with FDA officials and industry leaders soon to see if an agreement can be reached to require child-proof packaging for the liquid nicotine refills used in e-cigarettes in the near term.
Poison control centers are receiving, on average, 215 calls per month involving e-cigarette liquids, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In Arkansas, at least 20 young children have been poisoned this year from exposure to liquid nicotine, according to state officials.
“I believe child-proof packaging is a common-sense measure we should take to address this dangerous problem and prevent the staggering increase of liquid nicotine poisoning cases in our young children,” Pryor said.
Pryor raised the poisoning issue earlier this month at a hearing where FDA Director Margaret A. Hamburg appeared. She said that FDA could not regulate e-cigarettes until a final “deeming” regulation was approved as part of the 2009 Tobacco Control Act.
Pryor noted that the regulation vacuum had created a “wild West” environment, allowing the industry to market products with child-friendly names and flavors.
So far, 28 states – including Arkansas – have passed laws prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. California also requires a warning label that the product contains chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects. Arkansas, Utah, North Dakota and New Jersey have also included e-cigarettes in indoor smoking bans.
A survey of nine of the largest e-cigarette companies in the United States found that they are turning to social media and sponsorships of events geared toward youth. The survey was done by 11 House and Senate Democrats, who want additional steps taken to discourage young people from using e-cigarettes.
Pryor was not involved in the report but said in a telephone interview last week that it is clear to him that some of the e-cigarette companies are marketing to children and that should be curbed.
“Nicotine is a drug,” he said. “We need to get on top of this.”