It’s been ten years since the FDA was given the mandate from Congress to fully regulate the tobacco industry and tasked with the critical responsibility of protecting the health of our nation. And still, the FDA has not fulfilled its mission to reduce the deadly toll of tobacco use.
The Wild Wild West of E-Cigarettes
While we continue to wait for the FDA to begin regulating tobacco products in addition to cigarettes and smokeless, we're seeing policy proposals in the states aimed at filling the void of e-cigarette regulation. Some of these proposals are well intentioned, but others backed by the tobacco industry are designed to skirt future regulation. It's a wild wild west out there, and two studies published recently shine a light on what we're seeing in states across the country. The way laws define e-cigarettes affects how they are regulated, particularly as it pertains to existing laws that apply to traditional cigarettes. A recent paper in the journal Tobacco Control examined laws in 40 states to see how e-cigarettes were characterized. The authors found what our staff in the field have run up against laws in many states put e-cigarettes in a different product category than other tobacco products. This makes it more difficult for states to regulate e-cigarettes in the same way as other tobacco products through taxes, smoke-free laws and sale and marketing restrictions. Often states are creating these new definitions behind the curtain of a law that prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to youth. ACS CAN supports keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of teens and adolescents, but those same laws should not make it improbable that e-cigarettes can be subject to the same tobacco control laws we know work to keep kids from using tobacco products and help people quit. We know prohibiting sales to youth has limited effectiveness when not implemented with proven tobacco prevention strategies, such as smoke-free laws. Yet, even with 40 state laws prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes or similar products to minors, the CDC reported this month that more than 16 million children live in states where they can buy e-cigarettes legally and more than 300 million Americans live in states where e-cigarettes aren't included in smoke-free laws. With the rapid proliferation of e-cigarettes on the market, it's imperative that the public health response through regulation keep pace. ACS CAN is working to make sure e-cigarettes don't make their way into the hands of kids and that families are protected from any of their potential secondhand effects in indoor spaces. In 2015, we're expecting the tobacco and e-cigarette industries to continue to introduce legislation designed to undercut effective tobacco control programs, but we also expect to see more and more communities and states working to prohibit the use of these devices in public places and recognizing the need for additional funding for tobacco control programs to increase the awareness of the potential harms of using tobacco products including e-cigarettes. These two studies illustrating the wild wild west of e-cigarette regulation in the states further demonstrate the critical need for the FDA to move quickly to regulate these products, ban flavorings that are attractive to youth and rein in the marketing practices of the unscrupulous tobacco industry. While we don't yet have clear science on the potential benefits or harms of e-cigarettes, ACS CAN and other public health organizations have concerns that the widespread, unregulated use of e-cigarettes has the potential to result in smoking again becoming a socially acceptable behavior. We must protect the progress we've made in reducing smoking rates of youth and adults over the past 50 years, and ensure state laws related to e-cigarettes are contributing to the movement toward a tobacco-free generation.