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FDA takes significant steps to protect Americans from dangers of tobacco through new regulation

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalized a rule extending its authority to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco and pipe tobacco, among others. This historic rule helps implement the bipartisan Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 and allows the FDA to improve public health and protect future generations from the dangers of tobacco use through a variety of steps, including restricting the sale of these tobacco products to minors nationwide.

“We have more to do to help protect Americans from the dangers of tobacco and nicotine, especially our youth. As cigarette smoking among those under 18 has fallen, the use of other nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, has taken a drastic leap. All of this is creating a new generation of Americans who are at risk of addiction,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell. “Today’s announcement is an important step in the fight for a tobacco-free generation – it will help us catch up with changes in the marketplace, put into place rules that protect our kids and give adults information they need to make informed decisions.”

Tobacco use is a significant public health threat. In fact, smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States and responsible for 480,000 deaths per year. While there has been a significant decline in the use of traditional cigarettes among youth over the past decade, their use of other tobacco products continues to climb. A recent survey supported by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows current e-cigarette use among high school students has skyrocketed from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015 (an over 900 percent increase) and hookah use has risen significantly. In 2015, 3 million middle and high school students were current e-cigarette users, and data showed high school boys smoked cigars at about the same rate as cigarettes. Additionally, a joint study by the FDA and the National Institutes of Health shows that in 2013-2014, nearly 80 percent of current youth tobacco users reported using a flavored tobacco product in the past 30 days – with the availability of appealing flavors consistently cited as a reason for use.

Before today, there was no federal law prohibiting retailers from selling e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco or cigars to people under age 18. Today’s rule changes that with provisions aimed at restricting youth access, which go into effect in 90 days, including:

  • Not allowing products to be sold to persons under the age of 18 years (both in person and online); Requiring age verification by photo ID;
  • Not allowing the selling of covered tobacco products in vending machines (unless in an adult-only facility); and Not allowing the distribution of free samples.