They're not blowing smoke. The FDA is drafting new rules to regulate electronic cigarettes. The effort involves how the popular product is marketed and how it will be developed.
E-cigarettes come in different shapes and sizes. The devices heat liquid nicotine into a vapor that looks like smoke. After the initial equipment purchase, e-cigarette owners like Chuck Wall claim it’s cheaper than lighting up traditional tobacco products.
"And so I was looking for a healthier alternative."
While Wall says he supports some government oversight, is also worried what it could do to his wallet.
"It does concern me that we could see a major price hike in all of this equipment,” said Wall.
The proposed FDA rules for e-cigarettes include:
-Requiring a federal review and approval of any new products.
-No sales to minors.
-No claims of being safer than tobacco.
-No free samples.
-No vending machine sales, unless in locations open only to adults like bars.
-Using words such as light and mild are also prohibited.
Jordan Nie, who operates several shops in Austin called Create-A-Cig, says he welcomes the regulations.
"We think the industry needs to go toward a safe, end goal as far as regulations, there's a lot of people out there that might be practicing in ways that are not socially acceptable, we really have no regulations, so regulation would be encouraged,” said Nie.
The new government rules will go into effect after a 75 day review process. But some communities are not waiting, and have passed ordinances banning the use of e-cigarettes in public places like those on tobacco products. How the Federal rules could impact the local laws remains uncertain.
"It’s completely unregulated right now and it’s kind of the Wild West,” said Cam Scott with the American Cancer Society's – Cancer Action Network.
According to Scott, this first step should not be the only step.
"It’s going to take a while to get a handle on e-cigarettes because there are so many unknowns we need more research on e-cigarettes."
Scott and other health advocates are also concerned the rules do not stop the use of candy like flavors that can be added to the liquid nicotine. There are reports of children drinking the liquid and getting sick. Adding flavor to the list of regulations is something Chuck Wall says he cannot support.
"That’s grasping at straws, if you want to make that argument, why are not candy flavored liquors banned?” asked Wall.
It’s a debate that's expected to continue well after the FDA review process wraps up this summer months. But with more than 200 brands and nearly $2-billion in sales last year even when the new rules are enforced the popularity of e-cigarettes is not expected to evaporate.
The FDA is also proposing to extend its authority to regulate several other tobacco related items like, cigars, hookah devices, nicotine gels, pipe tobacco and dissolvable tobacco products.