Washington: US regulators proposed new restrictions today on the soaring 2 billion USD market in e-cigarettes, which until now have been free from federal oversight.
The changes would also apply to other, previously unregulated tobacco products, including cigars, hookahs, nicotine gels, and pipe tobacco; and are aimed in large part at keeping these substances away from young people.
"This proposed rule is the latest step in our efforts to make the next generation tobacco-free," said
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a press release announcing the reform.
The proposal by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would bring these products under many of the same rules that already apply to traditional cigarettes.
Sellers would be required to enforce a minimum age restriction on those who wish to buy the products, including requiring identification.
Companies would be barred from handing out free samples, and would be required to include health warning labels and to seek FDA approval before marketing a new product.
They would have to register with the FDA and provide details about their ingredients.
"Tobacco-related disease and death is one of the most critical public health challenges before the FDA.
The proposed rule would give the FDA additional tools to protect the public health in today`s rapidly evolving tobacco marketplace," said Mitch Zeller, director of that agency`s Centre for Tobacco Products.
But the rules do not restrict advertising of e-cigarettes, nor do they ban the special flavors, such as Cherry Crush or Chocolate Treat, that some say are designed to appeal to children.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that deliver vaporised nicotine into an aerosol inhaled by the user.
Their use by young people has been booming: a December study by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 10 per cent of high school students had used e-cigarettes.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has also reported a spike in calls to poison control centres about accidents involving nicotine-filled bottles being used to refill the e-cigarettes. More than half the calls involved children under age five who had swallowed, inhaled or spilled the liquid on their skin or in their eyes.
The new rule comes under the framework of a 2009 law that gave the FDA authority to regulate the manufacture, distribution and marketing of tobacco products.