As a nation, we've long recognized the need to protect kids from cigarette marketing. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not had oversight over all tobacco products -- including over e-cigarettes, which are a newer tobacco product. As a result, youth use of cigars, e-cigarettes and hookah has skyrocketed. But all of that will now change.
Yesterday, we welcomed the release of public health protections -- especially for our kids -- from all tobacco products. The FDA's Center for Tobacco Products released its long-awaited final rule giving the agency commonsense oversight of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, little cigars, hookah, pipe tobacco and other tobacco products. How long awaited was it? In the over two years since this regulation was proposed, two million kids tried their first cigar. Now, e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among youth and high school boys smoke cigars at the same rate as cigarettes.
This new rule gives FDA authority over the sales, marketing and manufacturing of all tobacco products. The American Lung Association welcomes this step forward to protect public health. The FDA will finally have basic authority to make science-based decisions that will protect our nation's youth and the public health from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars and hookah. We are also pleased that the FDA followed our recommendation, and is including all cigars, including so-called premium cigars, in the rule.
Now, the FDA will also have authority over all e-cigarettes, the use of which is skyrocketing among children and teens. While FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has always had the authority to review the safety and efficacy of therapeutic claims (i.e., e-cigarettes can help smokers quit), FDA's Center for Tobacco Products can now halt e-cigarette manufacturers from making unproven health claims and stop marketing directed to kids. The rule sets the nationwide minimum age of sale at 18 years of age and prohibits distribution of free samples of e-cigarettes and almost all other tobacco products.
The rule is an incredibly important step forward because e-cigarettes have been completely unregulated in the U.S. market. Youth use e-cigarettes more than any other tobacco product on the market today, serving as a potential entry point to other tobacco products, and placing kids at risk to the harms and addiction of nicotine and other tobacco products. Ending the tobacco epidemic is more urgent than ever since more than one in four high school students currently use tobacco products, and can only happen if the FDA acts aggressively to protect all Americans from all tobacco products.
This announcement is a great victory for public health -- but we must be vigilant so that it's not overturned or weakened in Congress. In April, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations included two reckless amendments known as policy "riders" on the funding bill for the Food and Drug Administration. The first rider would prohibit FDA from implementing this final deeming regulation unless the regulation exempted certain cigars from basic FDA oversight. The second rider would grandfather in thousands of unregulated tobacco products currently on the market, including e-cigarettes, little cigars and hookah. Neither rider can become law unless it is included in the final appropriations bill that is signed into law by the President.
These dangerous riders show that too many in Congress are still willing to choose Big Tobacco over the health of our nation, particularly young people who will become the next generation of addicted tobacco users. We must now stand together and tell Congress to support public health protections and reject attempts to block or weaken FDA's commonsense steps to protect the public health!