The e-cigarette industry has blossomed into a $2 billion business, providing thousands of manufacturing and retail jobs while offering smokers a safer alternative. Unfortunately, this thriving market is under threat due to new rules finalized in May by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The new rules expand the regulatory authority of the FDA to cover all tobacco or tobacco-related products — including e-cigarettes, many of which contain no tobacco whatsoever.
Like cigarettes, other forms of tobacco consumption can be addictive because of nicotine — which is why the FDA has asserted regulatory authority. While most e-cigarette products do not contain tobacco, they still use flavored juices that contain nicotine. Smokers can use e-cigarettes to supplement or, in some cases, replace their regular tobacco usage. The FDA worries that these products will increase nicotine addiction rates, especially among youth, and thereby lead to increased tobacco usage overall.
While it could be argued that e-cigarettes and other tobacco-related products should be regulated in a way that puts them on an even playing field with cigarettes, the rules do not limit the FDA to making regulations fair. The rules give the FDA broad authority to regulate tobacco products in whatever way the agency wants. For many of these rules, the FDA will issue “guidance” rather than spelling out the restrictions in the finalized regulations. Unlike formal rules, guidance does not need to go through a formal approval process. Thus, there is simply no oversight to ensure equitable regulation.
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