Don’t de­lay e-cig­a­rette rules

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

Pub­lic health ad­vo­cates should be ec­static about the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s an­nounce­ment that it would ex­plore ways to re­duce nico­tine lev­els in con­ven­tional cig­a­rettes to non-ad­dic­tive lev­els.

Such a pol­icy could save mil­lions of lives if it caused the es­ti­mated 36.5 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who smoke reg­u­larly to lose in­ter­est in light­ing up. Smok­ing may be on the wane, but it is still the lead­ing cause of pre­ventable death in the United States.

What should have been tremen­dous news, how­ever, was greeted with tem­pered op­ti­mism be­cause of the trou­bling sec­ond part of Fri­day’s an­nounce­ment. As part of the agency’s new anti-nico­tine ap­proach, key parts of the reg­u­la­tions it adopted last year on elec­tronic cig­a­rettes, cigars and other un­reg­u­lated to­bacco prod­ucts will be put on hold for sev­eral years, even as the pop­u­lar­ity of these prod­ucts grows among youths.

Scott Got­tlieb, the physician who leads the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion, said the de­lay would give the agency time to de­ter­mine whether the reg­u­la­tions fit into his vi­sion for to­bacco pol­icy, specif­i­cally fo­cus­ing on nico­tine and urg­ing smok­ers to shift their habits to less-dan­ger­ous va­p­ing and non­com­bustible to­bacco prod­ucts. Mean­while, he said the agency would come up with prod­uct stan­dards to ad­dress ex­plod­ing e-cig­a­rette bat­ter­ies and chil­dren’s ex­po­sure to liq­uid nico­tine, is­sues that have cap­tured head­lines but aren’t the big­gest dan­gers associated with elec­tronic cig­a­rettes.

Got­tlieb is right that the com­bus­tion of tra­di­tional cig­a­rettes is what makes them so dan­ger­ous. But all to­bacco prod­ucts come with some health risk, and it un­der­mines the mes­sage to de­lay rules de­signed to en­sure that non-com­bustible prod­ucts are safe to use. Among other things, the rules re­quire man­u­fac­tur­ers to dis­close the con­tents of their liq­uid nico­tine, al­low gov­ern­ment re­view of how the de­vices are made and put warn­ings on the pack­ages. “This long de­lay will al­low egre­gious, kid-friendly e-cig­a­rettes and cigars, in fla­vors like gummy bear, cherry crush and ba­nana smash, to stay on the mar­ket with lit­tle pub­lic health over­sight,” Matthew L. Myers, pres­i­dent of Cam­paign for To­bacco-Free Kids, said in a state­ment. It’s also yet another ques­tion­able pro­ce­dural short­cut by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to stymie rules adopted by its pre­de­ces­sor.

Did Got­tlieb — a for­mer board mem­ber of an e-cig­a­rette re­tail­ing com­pany — make the nico­tine re­duc­tion an­nounce­ment just to dis­tract pub­lic at­ten­tion from a rules change that helps e-cig­a­rette com­pa­nies? We want to be­lieve Got­tlieb is sin­cere about reg­u­la­tion lim­it­ing nico­tine. It would be one of the most im­por­tant ac­com­plish­ments of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, though it would take years to im­ple­ment. The dam­age caused by de­lay­ing the reg­u­la­tions on other to­bacco prod­ucts, how­ever, will be im­me­di­ate.

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