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E-cigarettes facing first rules in US

Change appears to be on the horizon for Americans who use new tobacco products such as electronic cigarettes. Use of the products, which has been growing quickly and totals about $2 billion in annual sales south of the border, is currently unregulated in both Canada and the US.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing new rules that would “deem” new products such as e-cigarettes to be subject to FDA rules, which currently apply only to cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco.

When the FDA deems an item a tobacco product, it brings three new rules into play:

  • minimum age and identification restrictions that prevent sales to underage youth
  • a requirement to include health warnings
  • a prohibition on vending machine sales unless the machine is in a facility that never admits youth

“The proposed rule would give the FDA additional tools to protect the public health in today’s rapidly evolving tobacco marketplace, including the review of new tobacco products and their health-related claims,” said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

Last year the CMA took a strong stand against the sale of e-cigarettes, recommending a ban on the sale of all e-cigarette products to minors and ongoing research into their potential harm and benefit.

The new policy says that given “the absence of solid evidence” about the potential health impact of e-cigarettes, “electronic cigarettes containing nicotine should not be authorized for sale in Canada.”

The products are readily available here, despite a 2009 Health Canada notice which stated that “persons who be importing , advertising or selling electronic smoking products with the appropriate authorizations are asked to stop doing so immediately.”

CMA President Louis Hugo Francescutti said the CMA “is urging caution, and with good reason.”

A recent CMAJ editorial described the new products as “a Trojan horse that will allow the tobacco industry to reverse decades of global progress in reducing smoking prevalence.”

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