U.S. FDA set to further regulate e-cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes (known as e-cigarettes) are battery operated devices that deliver nicotine - the addictive substance in tobacco. These products are not regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

King County prohibits the use of electronic smoking devices (e-cigarettes, vape pens, etc.) in public places and places of employment. It’s also illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors under the age of 18.

In 2010, the King County Board of Health passed a regulation restricting the sale and use of electronic smoking devices. This county-wide regulation went into effect in January 2011 “primarily to protect the public's health by preventing youth from nicotine addiction and preserving our public spaces as smoke-free,”  the agency said.

King County Board of Health Code 19.12 includes the following provisions.

• Prohibits selling electronic smoking devices or liquid nicotine to minors under age 18.

• Prohibits sampling, offering free or nominal cost electronic smoking devices or liquid nicotine.

• Prohibits use of electronic smoking devices in public places; places of employment (same as smoking laws).

So just what are electronic smoking devices and e-juices?

Electronic smoking devices operate by vaporizing a solution containing nicotine, flavors and other chemicals that is inhaled by the user. Many of these products allow the user to refill the spent cartridge with liquid nicotine.

Liquid nicotine is toxic if swallowed or spilled on the skin, and the risk of poisonings is a growing concern nationally – especially for young children. According to county health officials, the number of calls to the Washington Poison Center quadrupled from 2012 to 2013.

Late last month, the FDA issued a proposed rule that would extend the agency’s tobacco authority to cover additional products that meet the legal definition of a tobacco product, such as e-cigarettes. Only e-cigarettes that are marketed for therapeutic purposes are currently regulated by the FDA. The FDA also regulates cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco, and smokeless tobacco.

FDA’s Extending Authorities to Additional Tobacco Products webpage offers more information on the proposed rule, including how to submit comments. Comments need to be submitted by July 9.

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