FDA proposes stricter rules on e-cigarette sales

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WASHINGTON (GRAY DC) -- To try and keep fruity flavored e-cigarettes out of the hands of children, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could soon be putting stricter rules on retailers.

The FDA proposed new policies Wednesday requiring brick-and-mortar and online retailers to take additional steps when verifying the age of customers purchasing fruity flavored e-cigarettes. This could include physically separating the products into a different room or verifying someone's age before entering the store.

"This is really an effort by us to try and strike a balance between still maintaining access to some of the e-cigarettes to the adults, to currently addicted adult smokers who we think could potentially use these products to help themselves quit smoking, while closing off access to the products that are being most widely abused by kids," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

There was a 78 percent increase in high school students using e-cigarettes between 2017 and 2018, according to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, and a 48 percent increase among middle school age children.

And Gottlieb worries the trend will only continue to grow.

"I don't think our actions are going to be implemented quickly enough, and I don't think kids will just stop using these, especially some kids who've become addicted to nicotine now," Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb said if the agency finds the numbers of children and teens using e-cigarettes increase again in this year's survey, the FDA will consider pulling some of the products off the market.

But the National Association of Convenience Stores is not onboard with the direction the agency is going.

"The government should not be picking winners and losers in the market," a NACS spokesperson told Gray in an email.

"The rule would be most permissive for online retailers, vape shops and tobacco-only stores, which happen to be the three outlets that have the worst performance in compliance studies. FDA's own data shows that 86 percent of students who used e-cigarettes did not get them from stores; they came from online retailers or a social source. And of those who did get them from a store, 76 percent got them from a vape shop," the statement continued.

Gottlieb said there is a possibility the new policy would lead retailers to stop selling e-cigarette products all together.

"I think you're going to see some stores decide not to sell those products and focus more on the products that are tobacco flavored," he said.

The requirements are only suggested for fruity flavored e-cigarettes and not tobacco, mint or menthol flavors since Gottlieb said kids are not really using those flavors.

The proposal is currently under a 30 day comment period. After the comment period is over, the FDA will take another 30 days to start implementing the guidelines.