Proposed FDA regulation of e-cigarettes, other tobacco products prompting industry concern that it could slow innovation, public health worries that rules won't go far enough

MCLEAN, Virginia , April 25, 2014 () – Proposed regulation of electronic cigarettes and other tobacco products is prompting industry concern that it could slow innovation and public health worries that the rules won't go far enough.

The Food and Drug Administration's 241-page proposal, unveiled Thursday, will ban the sale to minors of tobacco products that are currently unregulated, including e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and hookahs. The rules will also require ingredient disclosure, federal approval and warning labels but don't ban flavors such as bubble gum, Internet sales to adults or TV ads (unless they make health claims).

The rules are "not as restrictive as some had feared," said Bonnie Herzog, tobacco industry analyst for Wells Fargo Securities. She said her main concern is the potential stifling of e-cigarette innovation, which she says could slow the growth of the now $2 billion industry.

The battery-powered devices have sparked virulent debate about safety. They don't have as many harmful chemicals as conventional cigarettes, but they do contain nicotine, which is addictive and is derived from tobacco leaves. They heat a nicotine liquid into vapor that's inhaled. Supporters say they help smokers kick the habit, but critics say they enable users to avoid smoke-free laws and may lure children into a tobacco addiction.

Many public health groups welcomed the FDA's proposal, but some faulted it for not restricting flavors or advertising. "The association is disappointed that the FDA has chosen to delay action in this area," said Nancy Brown, the American Heart Association's CEO.

Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, says the FDA needs to finalize its rules quickly and should drop the potential exemption for premium cigars, which are wrapped in whole tobacco leaf and used primarily by adults.

"It's disturbing FDA would even consider exempting any form of tobacco product, all of which cause disease," Myers says.

The Cigar Association of America applauded the agency for acknowledging differences within its industry.

Industry reaction was generally receptive. "There's going to be some pain," says Jason Healy, president of blu eCigs, the leading U.S. e-cigarette company, citing the costs. But he says "we're in the public health space" and need to produce responsible products.

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