The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's proposed rules for electronic cigarettes, released Thursday after months of sitting idle during White House review, are a good first step to policing the lawless multibillion-dollar industry.
FDA regulations would forbid the sales of electronic cigarettes to minors, require that the nicotine-delivery devices carry warning labels, and mandate that their ingredients and method of manufacture be detailed and registered before they are allowed to be used by the public.
Public health advocates and The Bee's editorial board have recommended these reasonable steps in the absence of hard data about the use of the battery-powered lookalike cigarettes.
The rules will go into effect at least 30 days after a 75-day public comment period, though it could take longer. The FDA shouldn't let the rules linger any longer than necessary. Use of these devices is exploding, and the health of millions of users — many of them teenagers — and unwitting bystanders is at stake.
Federal regulators should follow up quickly with a second step. That would be to stop e-cigarette companies from marketing the nicotine products to kids and to banish ads for them from television altogether.
Local and state governments should remain involved, too, enacting bans on vaping in public places where appropriate and using the same guidelines for restricting tobacco-burning cigarettes. E-cigarettes use water vapor to deliver nicotine rather than the combustion of leaves. But anyone who has been to a vaping bar knows that there's a mist of unknown content emitted during the vaping process that can be inhaled by non-users.
While the first set of rules will go a long way toward quality control for adult users, they will be undermined if e-cigarette makers aren't stopped from marketing and advertising to young people. Although it will be illegal to sell e-cigarettes directly to minors or in vending machines, it won't stop online sales or block other ways that kids can obtain the products if they want to do so.
Candy and dessert flavors of liquid nicotine clearly are intended to appeal to kids. FDA officials said Thursday they need to research how flavors entice kids before they will suggest new rules. Perhaps they only need to look into the recent past. These are companies that have deliberately tried to hook children on their cancer-causing tobacco products and know exactly what they are doing.
Until there are credible long-term studies, e-cigarettes must be treated as a public health risk.