The Food and Drug Administration is banning the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors as part of a broad set of regulations the agency finalized Wednesday.
With the rules that were more than two years in the making, the agency is expanding its authority over e-cigarettes, cigars and hookah tobacco, in much the same way it already regulates traditional cigarettes.
In addition to barring sales of tobacco products and e-cigarettes to people under age 18, the FDA would impose other restrictions, including:
- A prohibition on distribution of free samples
- A ban on selling e-cigarettes in vending machines unless they are in secure places that never admit young people
- A requirement that e-cigarettes carry warnings that they contain nicotine, which is addictive
The rules also require companies to get FDA approval for any products that were put on the market after Feb. 15, 2007. Also, e-cigarette makers will have to go back to the agency within two years for approval of the products they already sell.
E-cigarettes consist of plastic or metal tubes that contain a heating element that vaporizes a liquid solution containing nicotine.
The popularity of "vaping" has grown in recent years. The FDA says about 16 percent of high school students used e-cigarettes in 2015.
Some have welcomed the devices as an alternative to traditional cigarettes, whose dangers are well-known, and as an aid to help smokers quit.
In the U.K., for example, the Royal College of Physicians in April embraced e-cigarettes as a way to reduce smoking, which the group says is far more dangerous. "In the interests of public health it is important to promote the use of e-cigarettes," the group said in a statement released April 28.
The industry trade group has pressed that point. E-cigarettes "provide smokers with a viable path to reducing their tobacco consumption and quitting altogether," said Tony Abboud, national legislative director of the Vapor Technology Association, the trade group for e-cigarette makers.
Others fear the devices will addict nonsmokers to nicotine and eventually lead to more people smoking.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell nodded to that concern in a statement released with the new rules that said use of e-cigarettes has risen as traditional smoking has declined. "All of this is creating a new generation of Americans who are at risk of addiction," she said.
The FDA had previously attempted to regulate e-cigarettes, but that effort was thwarted in court.
Public health advocates such as the American Lung Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics welcomed the new rules.