Utah e-cigarette retailers wary of new FDA regulations

Thursday , April 24, 2014 - 5:34 PM

Bryon Saxton

CLEARFIELD — When it comes to regulating e-cigarettes and the e-juice contained in them, the Food and Drug Administration is proposing to head down the same road the Davis County Health Department has already plowed, according to officials.

Davis County Health is the first public health agency in the country to have specific e-cigarette regulations in place, Davis County Health Director Lewis R. Garrett said Thursday. The Davis Board of Health adopted its regulations in February.

As a result, whatever action the FDA is to take over the next few years in proposing federal e-cigarette regulations, officials here anticipate it will have minimal impact on the Utah e-cigarette industry based on what regulations are already in place here.

On Tuesday, the FDA announced that for the first time, that if approved, it would regulate the nearly $2 billion a year e-cigarette industry.

An electronic cigarette is a battery-powered device which simulates tobacco smoking by producing a vapor resembling smoke. The device generally uses a heating element that vaporizes a liquid solution, some containing a mixture of nicotine and flavorings.

"If adopted, the government's plan would force manufacturers to restrict sales to minors, stop handing out free samples, place health warning labels on their products, and disclose the ingredients (of the product)," according to an Associated Press story.

"E-cigarette makers also would be banned from making health-related claims without scientific evidence," officials state.

The impact from most of the proposed regulations the FDA is looking at adopting for e-cigarette manufacturers across the country have been minimized locally as a result of Utah e-cigarette manufacturers having to meet those regulations having already been set forth by the Davis County Health Department, said Aaron Frazier, spokesman for Utah Vapers, a group representing certified e-cigarette retailers across the state.

Based on county health regulations Utah e-cig retailers have not been selling their products to minors, and have been properly labeling their products, including adding to the label "a health statement."

"Obviously, it is a step in the right direction for the FDA," Weber/Morgan Health Executive Director Brian Bennion said.

But it will be some time before any of the federal regulations are in place, Bennion said. Therefore, he believes the state Legislature should continue to entertain putting some sort of statewide regulations in place regarding e-cigarettes, he said.

In the meantime, Weber/Morgan Health is continuing to look at what Davis County has already has in place, Bennion said.

But one area of concern Frazier does have with the FDA's proposed regulations, is its proposal to ban e-cigarette retailers from making any health related claims without scientific evidence.

Utah e-cigarette manufacturers could have " three feet of scientific evidence" supporting their claims, only to have that evidence not recognized by the FDA, he said.

Also of concern is the FDA's expensive application process all the different strengths of the e-juice liquid would now have to go through, Frazier said. He said a cost that will hurt many of the "mom and pop shops" currently selling e-cigarettes and threaten to turn the e-cigarette retail industry over to big tobacco, which will be able to afford the additional federal approval expense.

"It will put many retailers and manufacturers throughout the country out of business," Frazier said.

Other than those concerns, until he reads the proposed 241-page report issued by the FDA on Thursday, Frazier said, "it is difficult to assess what the local impact will be."

Based on the public comment period that will be involved with the proposed FDA e-cigarette regulations, Frazier said, everything should remain at "status quo" for about two years before any federal regulations become law.

Garrett said what the FDA is trying to do with its proposed regulations is a good start. But Garrett warns the FDA in putting together its regulations may want to walk a tight rope based on evidence that suggest e-cigarettes, although harmful, are less harmful compared to traditional, combustible (burning) tobacco.

"I think the right answer in Utah is to have the local boards of health adopt common sense regulations," Garrett said.

Bringing the regulations down to the local level allows for more public input, Garrett said.

The county health department in developing its regulations also had a good working relationship with those representing the Utah e-cigarette industry, Garrett said.

"I think we are in pretty good shape with, or without, the FDA," Garrett said referring to this particular issue.

The FDA's proposal does stop short of broader restrictions sought by many tobacco-control advocates.

Regulators at this point are not seeking to halt online sales of e-cigarettes, curb television advertising or ban the use of flavorings such as "bubble-gum" and "Cap'n Crunch."

"Right now, for something like e-cigarettes, there are far more questions than answers," said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.

Thursday's action is about expanding FDA's authority to products that have been rapidly evolving with no regulation whatsoever, in order to create a foundation for broader regulation in the future, Zeller said in a Washington Post story.

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