The US government announced yesterday (24 April) a plan to regulate electronic cigarettes under a federal law governing tobacco products, following the European Union’s lead.
The European Parliament and member states voted in February to approve a revision to the EU’s tobacco products directive that will regulate e-cigarettes for the first time. Up till now, the devices have not been covered by the law because they do not contain tobacco. Instead, they deliver nicotine through a liquid solution.
E-cigarette advocates have said it is unfair to regulate the devices as tobacco when they do not contain any, and that over-regulation will kill a valuable tool to quit smoking.
The new tobacco products directive, which takes effect next month, has become a lightning rod in the European Parliament elections campaigns – with many e-cigarette users blaming an urge for over-regulation by the EU for the law. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) has cited the new law in anti-EU campaigning.
However it was national European governments that asked the EU to set a standardised way of dealing with the new devices. The European Commission pointed out that if the EU did not set a standard way of regulating the devices throughout the single market, EU countries would have adopted a patchwork of different regulations.
The US regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which still needs final approval, would be similar to the EU approach. E-cigarette companies would need to register their products with the FDA and seek approval for the ingredients contained in the solution. The regulation would also forbid the sale of e-cigarettes to people under 18, as for cigarettes.
The FDA would have to approve all health claims, and the companies would not be allowed to distribute free samples. Companies will be required to attach a nicotine addiction warning on their packaging. However unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes will still be able to advertise in television and print.
Reaction to the US law from the industry and users has been significantly more restrained than the reaction to the EU law – suggesting an air of inevitability following the EU vote. The Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association, an industry association representing e-cigarette manufacturers, said in a statement that it welcomes FDA regulation.
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