Long-awaited federal rules to keep electronic cigarettes out of the hands of children finally arrived last week, and not a moment too soon.
The rules, in the works since 2010, put the regulation of all tobacco products — including “novel and future” ones — under the authority of the Food and Drug Administration for the first time. This is a profoundly important step in reining in e-cigarettes, a popular product with unknown long-term health effects.
Now, manufacturers will be required to disclose the ingredients in the liquid nicotine used in “vaping” and allow government review of how the devices are made before they can be sold to adults.
Even without the carcinogenic tar and smoke of regular cigarettes, e-cigarettes still contain nicotine, an addictive substance linked to heart disease. Adults should be wary as well. Dangerous chemicals have been found in the electronic cigarette “juice,” such as a Diacetyl, a flavoring associated with lung illness.
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The devices themselves also can pose a threat to consumers, many of whom have been injured and disfigured in a spate of explosions. The battery-operated devices heat liquid nicotine into a mist. But neither the liquid nor the devices, most of which are made in China, must comply with any sort of safety standards.
The federal rules include other controls such as not allowing them to be sold in vending machines and requiring warning labels. It’s possible that research may conclude one day that vaping is significantly safer than smoking traditional cigarettes. That’s an argument, perhaps, for adult use, but the fear with children is that they’ll start with vaping first and move on to smoking.