FDA launches new regulations to keep e-cigarettes out of kids hands, regulate what manufacturers sell

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EAST HAVEN--On Monday, a slew of new regulations from the Food and Drug Administration made it more difficult for young people to get their hands on tobacco and non-tobacco smoking products.

It's long been illegal to sell cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to minors, but a new federal law that took effect August 8 makes it illegal to sell e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco or cigars to anyone under the age of 18. Retailers must also check the ID of anyone under the age of 27.

Other parts of the law include a prohibition on handing out free samples of new tobacco products and a ban on selling any of the above products in a vending machine that anyone under age 18 has access to at any time.

Lou Salato, who runs vapor cigarette shops in Connecticut, doesn't agree with the new rules. "They're putting these in the category with cigarette tobacco which, it's not," he said at his shop, CT Vapors, which has locations in East Haven and North Haven.

But while Salato defends his product, saying that it's a good way to ween yourself off cigarettes -- "A lot of people use this as an alternative to quit smoking, because it helps them quit smoking" -- Dr. Roy Herbst, the chief of oncology at Smilow Cancer Hospital, says that's just not the case.

"People are now getting addicted to nicotine, using it in the vape in these e-cigarettes," Herbst said. The American Lung Associating agrees, likening e-cigarettes and vaping to a "gateway" drug, leading people right back to cigarettes.

So while Herbst refutes Salato's claims, saying, "There are no data to show that this e-cigarette yet has been shown to be used as a tool," Salato stands by the proof he has in his sales: "We try to ween people off."

Meanwhile, it's not just direct-to-customer sales that are impacted by the new regulations.

The FDA will also have the authority to regulate manufacturers' production, review new tobacco products before they hit the market and prohibit misleading claims on labels. Also, any product made after February 15, 2007 will be regulated and must get a marketing order from the FDA, including a list of ingredients.

Salato fears this new rule will not only be more taxing on time, but also on the pocketbook. The FDA's website indicates that the cost for manufacturers will be calculated based on the quantity of product the manufacturer intends to produce, which could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But Salato says that what he's most worried about is that cost being passed on to the consumer, which may open up the black market and online companies, which can charge less.

"They may potentially start buying from China online, and, you know, just buying where there's no regulation," Salato said.

In the end, Dr. Herbst says that Smilow has "programs, we have patches , we have lozenges," and the most important thing is to actually get people to stop smoking altogether. The FDA reports that while cigarette smoking has significantly declined among youth in the past decade, e-cigarette use has skyrocketed from 1.5 percent of youth in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015 among high schoolers.