The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Thursday took an important step in the national regulation of tobacco products, issuing a new rule that prohibits the sale of a number of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to minors. But two provisions in a federal bill could significantly weaken this authority. Find out what the FDA rule says and how it could be already under threat.

“Before today, there was no federal law prohibiting retailers from selling e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco or cigars to people under age 18,” the FDA said in a news release. “Today’s rule changes that with provisions aimed at restricting youth access.”

The FDA rule helps implement the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 and allows the agency to improve public health through a variety of steps, including restricting the sale of all tobacco products to minors nationally.

“The AMA supports the FDA’s new rule and its efforts to ensure the public—especially young people—is aware of and protected from these harmful products,” said AMA President Steven J. Stack, MD. “We urge the FDA to issue further regulations addressing marketing of these products and banning flavored e-cigarettes, which are particularly enticing to minors.”

“Patients suffer from many chronic and fatal diseases related to tobacco use, including cancer, heart disease and emphysema,” Dr. Stack said. “Smoking and tobacco use remain the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the United States.”

The AMA has long called for e-cigarettes to be regulated in the same way the FDA regulates tobacco and nicotine products. The organization also has strongly advocated for the FDA to extend its tobacco regulations and oversight to include e-cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products.

The rule will go into effect in 90 days and establishes restrictions in the following ways:

  • Not allowing products to be sold to persons under the age of 18 (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)
  • Not allowing the distribution of free samples

The FDA also released a fact sheet further detailing the regulations.

Also this week, California became the second state after Hawaii to raise the tobacco purchasing age when Gov. Jerry Brown signed bills that raise the tobacco and e-cigarette purchasing age from 18 to 21 years, among other measures.

“As cigarette smoking among those under 18 has fallen, the use of other nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, has taken a drastic leap,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. “Today’s announcement is an important step in the fight for a tobacco-free generation.”

Though this final rule is an important action for the health of the nation, two provisions in the House Agriculture Appropriations bill could weaken the FDA’s authority over these tobacco products.

In alliance with a large group of other national organizations, the AMA recently sent a letter to the Senate committee with jurisdiction over the bill, opposing the provisions.

“One provision seeks to completely exempt certain cigars from FDA regulation,” the letter said. “The other exempts e-cigarettes, cigars and other currently unregulated tobacco products from an important product review requirement, taking away a powerful and efficient tool to protect children from the candy and fruit-flavored e-cigarettes and cigars that have flooded the market in recent years.”

“We urge the Senate to reject any provisions [that] make it more difficult for FDA to address this public health problem,” the letter said. “The need for FDA oversight of these products could not be clearer.”

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