Smokers like e-cigarettes because the nicotine-infused vapor looks like smoke but doesn't contain the thousands of chemicals, tar or odor of regular cigarettes. Some smokers use e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking tobacco, or to cut down.
"If the product as I use it now becomes illegal, I'm not sure what'll happen. I'll probably end up smoking again," said 38-year-old Jason Todrick of Huntington Beach, Calif., who kicked his more than 20-year smoking habit two years ago using an e-cigarette.
In addition to mandating warning labels that say nicotine is an addictive chemical, the rules would require e-cigarette makers to disclose their products' ingredients. They would not be allowed to claim their products are safer than other tobacco products.
In addition, they couldn't give out free samples or sell e-cigarettes in vending machines unless they are in a place open only to adults, such as a bar.
The public and the industry will have 75 days to comment on the proposed rules. There is no timetable for when the FDA will issue its final rules. Many believe the process will wind up in court.
"It seems to be a responsible approach ... and shows the FDA's commitment to look at particular e-cigarettes in a science-based way rather than just conjecture," said Jason Healy, president of Blu e-cigs, which is owned by the tobacco company Lorillard Inc. and is the largest player in the market. Blu accounts for almost half of e-cigarettes sold.
Also on Thursday, the FDA proposed extending its authority to regulate cigars, hookahs, nicotine gels and pipe tobacco.
AP Business Writer Matthew Perrone contributed to this report.
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