The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planning to expand its vast regulatory reach to e-cigarettes and vapor products, but new language in an agriculture bill currently in the U.S. House of Representatives could throw a wrench into the machine.
The FDA plans to use a “deeming rule” to move forward on regulations that would treat e-cigarettes and vapor products like tobacco. Though these products can contain nicotine, which is entirely up to the user, they don’t have tobacco. In fact, there is, according to the American Vaping Association, “no fire, no ash, [and] no smoke.”
Many people who use e-cigarettes or vapor products do so to quit smoking, using high-nicotine e-juices and gradually lowering the dosage until they’ve kicked the habit. The FDA and public health advocacy groups claim that e-cigarette and vapor products are dangerous and target minors through different flavors available on the market. Despite the concerns, studies have shown these products don’t emit significant amounts of toxins, especially when compared to real cigarettes.
“Does this mean e-cigarette vapor is about as safe as air? Not quite, since we don’t know the long-term respiratory effects of inhaling the glycerin or propylene glycol that delivers nicotine into vapers’ lungs,” Jacob Sullum wrote at Reason. “But whatever those effects are, it is safe to say they will not compare to the effects of smoking.”
Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., has introduced language to the agriculture appropriations bill currently working its way through committee that would reduce the impact of the awaited FDA regulations. The bill would prevent the FDA from reviewing products already available on the market, which, opponents say, could virtually put the industry out of business.
“Without action by Congress, the FDA’s proposed regulations threaten to ban 99 percent-plus of vapor products currently available on the market,” said Gregory Conley, President of the American Vaping Association, of the bill’s introduction in the House. “This would be a disaster not only for thousands of small businesses, but also public health.”
“This proposal does not remove the FDA’s ability to regulate vapor products. The FDA will retain the authority to immediately move forward with science-based product standards, disclosure requirements, and many other measures. Anyone who claims that this bill would somehow render the FDA toothless is either not familiar with the law or not being forthright,” he added.
While a ban on the sale of e-cigarette and vapor products to minors may be appropriate – though most sellers already refuse to sell to anyone under the age of 18 – promulgating regulations that would subject this industry to extensive regulation is a bridge too far.
Interestingly, “Big Tobacco” is encouraging the FDA to implement the regulations. Some traditional cigarette makers are in the e-cigarette business. Reynolds American, for example, the maker of Newport and Camel cigarettes, owns Blu e-cigs. Conley believes Reynolds and other cigarette makers, which are already subject to the regulation and can easily absorb the cost, are trying to snuff out refillable vapor producers, which are typically small businesses.
The FDA regulations are due to be announced in the coming weeks, if not sooner. In the meantime, puff ‘em while you have ‘em, because your freedom to vape may not be around much longer.