- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2016

Retailers can no longer sell electronic cigarettes to minors, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday, instituting the ban as part of a controversial new rule that regulates the surging industry for the first time.

The agency said it was simply trying to catch up with the marketplace. While use of traditional cigarettes has been in steep decline, e-cigarette use among high school students rose from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015, the FDA said.

About 3 million middle and high school students used the devices, it found, while boys smoked cigars at the same rate as regular cigarettes.

“Today’s announcement is an important step in the fight for a tobacco-free generation — it will help us catch up with changes in the marketplace, put into place rules that protect our kids and give adults information they need to make informed decisions,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and causes 480,000 deaths per year, the FDA said.

Yet the relative danger of e-cigarettes has been a major point of contention. Some say the devices, which process nicotine into an inhalable vapor without the carcinogenic byproducts of regular cigarettes, help people wean themselves off the habit, saving lives in the process.

Others say the devices are creating legions of new, mostly young, smokers.

The regulations, which will take effect in 90 days, ban the sale of e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco and cigars to minors and require retailers to verify the age of people purchasing them, though some states already required it.

In a major change for the industry, the FDA will require tobacco manufactures to explain what’s in their products and how they are made, and to place safety warnings on packaging and advertisements.

It will also prohibit a venue from selling the products in vending machines, unless it is in an adult-only facility, and bar the distribution of free samples.

The 499-page rule immediately kicked up dust on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have sparred over the need to regulate the marketplace.

Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, said tobacco products shouldn’t be marketed to children, but he blasted the FDA’s approach as “just another example of the Obama administration’s regulatory overreach and nanny-state mentality.”

Democrats lauded the move, however, saying it shouldn’t have taken this long.

“It made zero sense that there were no consumer protection rules for e-cigarettes since they came to market nearly a decade ago,” Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said. “Today’s long-overdue decision marks an important first step towards a coherent tobacco policy. In the days ahead it will be critical to ensure the FDA makes use of its authority to put commonsense consumer protections in place and fight any attempt to roll back this important decision.”

Partisan divisions over the pending regulations had festered for months.

In December, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi boasted that Democrats were able to remove a policy rider that would have exempted e-cigarettes from FDA’s presale review from an end-of-year spending deal.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who picked up the smoking habit during tours of duty as a Marine officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, told Mrs. Pelosi she had nothing to gloat about, arguing e-cigarettes offered a lifeline for regular smokers looking to quit.

In February, Mr. Hunter provided newscasts with extraordinary footage when he vaped from a committee dais in protest of an amendment to ban the practice on planes.

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