WASHINGTON, April 24 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday proposed rules that could eventually ban the sale of e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels, waterpipe tobacco and hookahs to individuals under 18.
Under the new rules, the marketing of such new tobacco products should obtain FDA approval and the sale of the products in vending machines would be prohibited unless the vending machine is located in a facility that never admits youth.
Meanwhile, health warnings would also be required, but initially, the only health warning required would be that "this product contains nicotine derived from tobacco and that "nicotine is an addictive chemical."
"The tobacco product marketplace is evolving at a dizzying pace with many unanswered questions about the health effects of novel products," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg wrote in a blog.
"Especially in the shadow of alarming increases in the number of youths using unregulated products like electronic cigarettes and cigars, it's more crucial than ever to help prevent early tobacco use that could lead to a lifetime of nicotine addiction," she said.
Hamburg said that the new rules "would also help to correct a misperception by consumers that tobacco products not regulated by FDA are safe alternatives to currently regulated tobacco products. "
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that look like cigarettes and deliver an aerosol of nicotine and other chemicals. They are promoted as safer alternatives to cigarettes and smoking cessation aids, and also sold in flavors such as chocolate and strawberry that are banned in conventional cigarettes because of their appeal to youth.
E-cigarettes are gaining attention as they are rapidly gaining popularity among adults and youth in the United States and around the world. It is estimated that e-cigarettes have grown to become a 2-billion-U.S.-dollar industry in the U.S. alone.
A recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also found that the percentage of middle- and high-school students who had ever tried e-cigarettes doubled from 2011 to 2012. Close to 1.8 million U.S. students had tried the products in 2012, according to the CDC.
Although many consumers believe that e-cigarettes are "safe" tobacco products or are "safer" than cigarettes, the FDA said Thursday that it has not made such a determination and that conclusive research is not available.
The U.S. regulator said the public will have 75 days to comment on the proposal, especially in areas such as health effects of e- cigarettes.
The FDA was granted the authority to regulate tobacco products under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which was signed into law in 2009. Currently it only regulates cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco.
The FDA proposal was welcomed by anti-smoking groups such as Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, but the regulator was also urged to do more.
"The FDA and the Administration must now move as quickly as possible to finalize this rule and do so within 12 months," the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said in a statement.
"The FDA must also quickly develop follow-up regulations that close gaps in the proposed rule by restricting marketing and flavors that appeal to kids. There can be no excuse for further delay."