WASHINGTON — Top state law enforcement officials urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday to promptly issue a promised set of rules governing the sale of electronic cigarettes, adding to a recent plea by prominent health organizations for action.
In 2009, the FDA was given authority to regulate cigarettes, cigarette tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco, although not pipe tobacco, cigars or e-cigarettes, battery-operated products that produce a vapor containing nicotine that is inhaled.
The law allows the FDA to expand its authority over all tobacco products, but it must first issue new regulations. The FDA has said they are in development.
In a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, attorneys general from 41 states, including Maine, asked the agency to “take all available measures” to issue the rules by the end of October.
“We ask the FDA to move quickly to ensure that all tobacco products are tested and regulated to ensure that companies do not continue to sell or advertise to our nation’s youth,” they wrote.
A spokeswoman for the FDA, Jennifer Haliski, said the agency could not speculate on when it would release the proposed rule. Earlier this year it gave an estimate of Oct. 31.
All the top tobacco companies including Lorillard, Imperial Tobacco, Reynolds American and Altria are now placing bets on e-cigarettes.
The attorneys general’s letter comes less than a week after the American Academy of Pediatrics and 14 other public health organizations, including the American Lung Association and American Heart Association, sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to pressure the FDA into issuing the rules.
In July, the FDA said it might place restrictions on menthol cigarettes following a review that showed the products are likely to be more addictive than regular cigarettes. The agency is seeking public comment.
In their letter, the attorneys general said sales of e-cigarettes have doubled every year since 2008 and are projected to reach $1.7 billion in 2013. The cost, meanwhile, has fallen, making them more affordable and attractive to youth, they said.
Moreover, there are no restrictions on advertising e-cigarettes.
“Consumers are led to believe that e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to cigarettes, despite the fact that they are addictive, and there is no regulatory oversight ensuring the safety of the ingredients in e-cigarettes,” their letter said.
Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health who has conducted research on e-cigarette use, said that while sales of e-cigarettes may be going up, even among youth, most users of e-cigarettes already smoke.
Moreover, he said, many adults are turning to e-cigarettes to help quit regular cigarettes.
“There is no issue right now that these products are becoming a gateway to smoking,” he said. “Could it happen? Yes. That’s why the FDA regulations are important to make sure they can’t be marketed to minors.”