FDA brings e-cigarettes under federal authority

AP file photo

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Hundreds of electronic cigarette brands will have to seek federal permission to stay on the market under new rules that have the potential to upend a multi-billion dollar industry attempting to position itself as an alternative to traditional cigarettes.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday released long-awaited rules that bring the burgeoning industry under federal oversight. Among other steps, the FDA rules limit e-cigarette sales to minors and require new health warnings.

For so many trying to quit smoking, e-cigarettes have become a way of life.

“The liquid is $13 a week, compared to $60 a carton. That’s $120 a week for me I saved when I quit smoking,” Billy Hoover of Plant City said.

The industry has never been regulated or taxed by the federal government. The new rules include banning sales to anyone under 18, requiring package warning labels and making all products subject to government approval.

At the Vape Room in Lakeland, management worries about the hefty price tag that comes with FDA regulation.

“It’s for one going to raise costs up. It’s going to get people to go back to smoking cigarettes because it’s going to cost you a lot more money, compared to them being a cost-saver. Nobody’s going to save money and nobody’s going to want to vape after this,” Vape Room manager Alai Abuaheir said.

Consumer Billy Hoover would like to know what’s in the liquid he puffs on. Still, he worries about the cost.

“It’s probably going to go up in price, I’m sure. More regulations, more cost,” Hoover said.

The staff at My Easy Smokes in North Lakeland is on board with the changes. In fact, they say it’s about time. “It’s going to help store owners and managers to know what’s inside that box,” Manager Angela Feuker said about the liquids.

Local cigar producers, including the owners of J.C. Newman, are also concerned the new regulations could negatively affect their businesses. The regulations extend to premium cigars.

“We are deeply disappointed that the Food and Drug Administration has decided to regulate premium cigars,”  Eric and Bobby Newman said. “The premium cigar industry is made up of dozens of small, family owned cigar makers, like us, along with thousands of small independent specialty cigar stores across the country.”

Eric Newman said it’s unclear how these regulations will affect his family’s business. “There’s 499 pages in the document written by attorneys, so our attorneys are pouring over the regulations right now,” he said. “It’s probably going to take a couple days to find out what it really means.”

Newman held a meeting with the 130 workers at the plant, letting them know what was going on. He plans to fight any regulation that could have a negative impact on the business or his employees.

Rhonda Jane has been through this before. She was laid off by Hav-a-Tampa when it moved its operations out of the city. She now works for J.C. Newman.

“Honestly, I do worry, but then again I pray. That’s number one. You pray and it will all work out,” Jane said while packaging product. “It will all come together.”

Smaller retailers could also feel the pinch.

Yanko Maceda owns Tabanero Cigars on 7th Street in Ybor City. He has several employees who roll the company’s signature cigars. If regulations end up costing thousands of dollars, he said it could put him out of business.

“We are about 11-12 people making a living from this, a small business. And if I’m not mistaking, the U.S. Is made up of small businesses,” Maceda said while puffing on one of his cigars. “They’re going to kill us. They’re going to kill us. They’re going to put us out of business.”

The Florida Department of Health emailed the following statement:

“We look forward to reviewing the FDA regulations to see how they will support Florida’s commitment to reducing the use of all nicotine and tobacco products, particularly in our youth,” Interim State Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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