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On Thursday, the FDA announced it will regulate products like e-cigarettes, hookahs, and fancy cigars the same way it regulates regular tobacco products, like traditional cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

This might sound relatively reasonable at first glance: If it’s all tobacco, why not treat it the same way, right?

It’s not quite that simple, especially where e-cigarettes are concerned. You see, they don’t contain tobacco and don’t generate any smoke, just flavored, nicotine-laden water vapor (that’s where the term “vaping” comes from). This key difference means that they can be a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes, providing the nicotine but not the lung-damaging smoke and chemicals from combustion:


So, while e-cig use may not be risk-free (and what is?), e-cigs present a small fraction of the risks posed by smoking. This is but one reason the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Physicians urges the use of e-cigs as a tool to help smokers quit.

E-cigarette use has boomed in recent years, fueled largely by current and former smokers. Many cigarettes users have learned that they can satisfy their nicotine craving while doing less damage to their lungs (while also lowering their dry-cleaning bills, spending less on their habit and doing less potential harm to bystanders and family members).

It gets worse. Not only will the new vaping regulations make it more difficult for smokers to get their hands on this healthier alternative in the short term, but it will significantly affect the vaping market for years to come.

In fact, as so many government regulations are, these new FDA rules look remarkably crony capitalist in nature. While Big Tobacco can easily comply with the government’s demands, the regulations will make life very difficult for newer, smaller competitors in the e-cig market.

Many vaping stores expect to go out of business as a result of the feds’ decision, which has been called a “slow-motion ban“:

The FDA rule, a preliminary version of which was published two years ago, effectively requires e-cigarette manufacturers to get their products approved as “new tobacco products,” an expensive, arduous, and time-consuming process that will be prohibitive for most of them.

Each application is expected to cost $1 million or more, and a separate application will be required for each version of a product—an impossible burden for small businesses that sell vaporizers along with dozens of custom-made fluids.

Oh, and every application will take an appalling 1,700 hours to complete — by the FDA’s own admission!

The rules will send prices up and selection down in the businesses which do manage to stay open, which, realistically, will also have to compete with black market competitors who can supply the products vapers really want.

As Jacob Sullum summarizes at Reason, these regulations privilege “the most dangerous nicotine delivery devices (conventional cigarettes) while threatening to eliminate much safer alternatives and blocking the introduction of even better products. All in the name of public health.”

If only that were surprising.

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