Local vapers criticized the federal Food and Drug Administration’s new rules aimed at overhauling the largely unregulated e-cigarette industry. But area health advocates and politicians said they welcomed the oversight.
The federal government’s sweeping new rules for electronic cigarettes drew sharply divided reactions Thursday from local vapers opposed to the first-ever regulations on the booming industry and from health researchers and politicians, who welcomed them.
Zach McLain, who runs Future Vapor in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, criticized the Food and Drug Administration’s decision, which extends the agency’s authority to all tobacco products — and now includes e-cigarettes in that category.
“The fact that they’re calling it a tobacco product is really misleading,” McLain said. “The only thing that they share is nicotine.”
He argued that e-cigarettes — used by an estimated 9 million adults in the U.S. — are a way for traditional smokers to kick the tobacco habit linked to 480,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.
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“It’s disheartening because I’ve watched people better their lives,” McLain said. “They come in so happy when they’re able to let go of cigarettes. Then I watch then wean themselves off nicotine.”
But a Seattle expert in smoking cessation, along with local politicians who helped forge Washington’s strict new e-cigarette law, said evidence is still lacking on whether e-cigarettes help stop smoking, and the FDA action was necessary to protect consumers from a largely unregulated industry.
“This ruling is about regulation,” said Jonathan Bricker, a behavioral scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who focuses on smoking cessation. “It’s about regulating the production, distribution, sale and marketing of the product. It’s not about getting it away from the 25-year-old who wants to stop smoking.”
The FDA on Thursday announced new rules that will for the first time require the devices and their ingredients to be reviewed, a mandate aimed at protecting consumers. E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that turn liquid nicotine into an inhaled vapor.
Before brands are allowed to stay on the market, regulators would have to check the design, contents and flavor of the fast-growing devices, which have found a foothold with teenagers.
“Millions of kids are being introduced to nicotine every year, a new generation hooked on a highly addictive chemical,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. “We cannot let the enormous progress we’ve made toward a tobacco-free generation be undermined by products that impact our health and economy in this way.”
The FDA rules also extend long-standing restrictions on traditional cigarettes to a host of other products, including hookahs, pipe tobacco and nicotine gels.
Starting in August, Americans younger than 18 will be banned from buying the products, and many purchasers will have to show identification to prove their age, a rule already in place in Washington and most other states.
Manufacturers of e-cigarettes and other newly covered products will have to register with the FDA and provide evidence of the ingredients, manufacturing processes and scientific data. They’ll be subject to FDA inspections and prohibited from distributing free samples.
Those rules also will apply to small vaping shops and businesses that mix their own e-cigarette liquids, making them producers under the regulations.
That drew the ire of Tony Mandarano, founder of ZampleBox, which operates a monthly subscription vaping club from Seattle. He said the FDA regulations will undermine the many entrepreneurs who have seen a need in the market — and met it.
“These regulations are designed to transfer wealth and power from a decentralized industry and community of small businesses and consumers to a centralized industry dominated by a few hand-selected big businesses,” Mandarano said. “The products will be the same. They will still contain nicotine and vapor, but they’ll cost a lot more for consumers and be owned by a few big businesses.”
State Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Pierce County, said the new federal regulations are an expected companion to a strict new Washington state law he co-sponsored this year. It sets limits on the distribution and sale of the devices.
“Our provisions to safeguard our youth are fully in place,” Dammeier said.
And Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, noted that the provisions in the Washington state law requiring disclosure of ingredients and nicotine levels in vaping fluids will take effect this summer, three years before the FDA law is binding.
“Washington state broke ground here,” he said. “Many of the things that the FDA said to do for public health, we’re doing now.”