What the FDA’s New Restrictions on E-Cigarettes Mean for You

E-Cigarettes, also known as electronic cigarettes, have recently come under fire by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has moved to impose a long list of new rules concerning several nicotine products.

The decision is getting a lot of attention, as it’s the first time that the FDA has been granted authority over including e-cigarettes. This means that the agency is now exercising jurisdiction over a 3-billion dollar industry that has so far operated with minimal supervision.

Before you stub out your battery-powered vape pen, know that the new regulations aren’t due to the discovery of smoking-gun evidence that proves e-cigarettes are as bad for you as traditional tobacco products.

Why Is the FDA Cracking Down on E-Cigarettes?

Several reasons. First, the FDA decided it was time to start regulating e-cigarettes, along with additional regulations on flavored cigars and hookah tobacco, when recent statistics revealed that use of tobacco vapor products has spiked by 900% between 2011 and 2015.

Many health and consumer protection organizations view this move as a win in the fight to decrease preventable tobacco-related diseases and deaths, as a majority of the new rules focus on preventing children and teens from using e-cigarettes.

What changes to expect at the cash register come August 8, 2016? Highlighted rules that are specific to the sale of e-cigarettes include:

  • Retailers will not be allowed to sell e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18.
  • Retailers must ask for identification before selling e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 26.
  • Establishments are not allowed to have e-cigarette vending machines unless they are an “adults only” establishment, such as a bar or a casino.

Why is the FDA extending the effort to quell a rising tide of under-18 tobacco users?

Experts argue that e-cigarettes simulate the smoking behavior and can lead to further experimentation with other nicotine-containing products. For example, a French study in 2013 revealed that the number of Parisian students experimenting with e-cigarettes has doubled in one year reaching 18%.

However, considering e-cigarettes as a gateway to traditional tobacco usage isn’t the only reason to limit their sales to minors.

Keeping E-Cigarettes Away From Kids

We dive deep into the potential dangers of e-cigarettes in “A Beginners Guide for Starting with E-Cigs,” along with a bevy of additional information you might find helpful if considering the switch from traditional tobacco products.

For the purposes of this point, we’ll bring you up to speed on the potential health effects of e-cigarettes: Namely, current research shows that e-cigarettes are not 100% harm free. However, traditional tobacco kills cells at a much faster rate.

How much faster? One study by Dr. Wang-Rodriguez showed that cells exposed to traditional tobacco died within 24 hours. Those exposed to e-cigarette vapor were still alive eight weeks later. 

It’s important to note that there may also be some dangerous chemical present in e-cigarette vapor depending on how it’s manufactured—a point we’ll touch on shortly.

While further research is still needed to determine the long-term effects of e-cigarettes on user’s health, current studies show that they may be far less dangerous than using traditional tobacco products.

However, in the eyes of the FDA, how minors use tobacco or other nicotine products is a moot point. Instead, the agency hopes that by imposing the above restrictions, they can more effectively keep minors away from nicotine, which is a known poison.

FDA Regulations Also May Affect Your Favorite E-Juice Availability

Minors aren’t the only ones affected by the FDA’s long list of new regulations.

In addition to restricting the sale of e-cigarettes, the FDA will begin regulating the e-liquids—the gel-like substance used in e-cigarettes. This is a big change since the world of e-cigarettes has been somewhat of a wild west since the industry started up a decade ago.

What new rules apply to e-liquids?

First, manufacturers of products that hit the market after February 15, 2007, will be forced to register with the FDA and submit their products for approval. To do so, they must disclose the following:

  • Ingredients
  • Safety and emissions data
  • Manufacturing processes

Considering that many small-time e-liquid manufacturers have been mixing their own liquids without restriction, safety-minded consumers may feel that this is a positive change.

However, manufacturers don’t agree. That’s because the application process to get FDA approval costs hundreds of thousands in legal fees and can take up to three years.

To help ease the burden on e-liquid manufacturers, the FDA has allotted for a significant lag time—allowing companies to continue to sell their products for up to two years while they submit their applications to the agency, and for another year during the approval process.

However, this also means that, come August, the e-liquids on local store shelves won’t be any safer by FDA standards.

Expect to See Warning Labels on E-Cigarettes

In addition to regulations covering what’s inside your e-liquid, the outside of e-cigarettes are about to get a makeover.

The new regulations require companies to put health warning labels on e-cigarettes and other tobacco products, including warnings of the possibility of addiction and the health effects of nicotine.

Worth a brief mention, the regulations also restrict e-cigarette manufacturers from doling out free samples of their products.

What Does The FDA’s Ruling on E-Cigarettes Mean for You?

The biggest changes that consumers will see come August 2016 are related to the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Basically, if you’re currently under 18 and smoke e-cigarettes, you won’t be able to purchase them at all. If you’re under 26, you’ll have to show ID.

The other regulations surrounding e-liquids will take time to kick in, due to the aforementioned application process. However, any new e-liquids hitting store shelves will have to include an ingredients list—something consumers may want to keep an eye out for.

What won’t show up on an e-liquids list of ingredients once those applications start being approved?

The toxins Diacetyl and Acetyl Propionyl, while commonly found in buttery, creamy juice concentrates, have been linked to negative effects when used in e-cigarettes. Some manufacturers, such as Capella, have already voluntarily excluded these ingredients and started releasing D/AP free versions of those flavors that use butyric acid instead.

Does All This Mean E-Cigarettes Are Equally as Bad as Tobacco?

As we mentioned above: No. While the FDA is firm on their view, much has been made about the seeming contrast between America's approach to e-cigarettes when compared England's. 

That’s because Public Health England declared e-cigarettes 95 percent safer than regular cigarettes, and the Royal College of Physicians endorsed e-cigarettes to help smokers quit.

Why the difference? These groups are not regulatory agencies like the FDA—but, those considering using e-cigarettes to quit traditional tobacco might want to consider both sides of their diverging views.

Related: Can E-Cigarettes Really Help Smokers Quit?

Here's the bottom line on using e-cigarettes: If you're a chronic smoker looking for a nicotine fix and trying to decide between smoking and vaping, most experts would agree there’s a compelling case that e-cigarettes are less harmful.

Further, the new regulations imposing mandatory ingredients on e-cigarette manufacturers might help others considering the switch to quit decide if doing so with the assistance of an e-cigarette is right for them.

Autumn Yates

Autumn draws from a reporting background and years of experience working remotely, while living abroad, to focus on topics in travel, beauty, and online safety.

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