New FDA regulations on tobacco products begin Monday

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Starting Monday, FDA regulation of tobacco products extends nationwide to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars and hookah.

"Prior to August 8, 2016, it’s been the Wild Wild West when it comes to the sale of those products to minors," said Mitch Zeller, J.D., Director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.

The historic rule was announced in May.

Now, if a business sells someone under 18 an e-cigarette, for example, the business owner would first get a warning, and if it happens again, the owner would get fined.

Before this rule, there was no federal law prohibiting retailers from selling e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco or cigars to people underage.

"There are a lot of states that have laws on the books. The key point there is they’re on the books. They aren’t really enforced or aren’t enforced effectively enough. This is important because kids should not be using tobacco products of any kind, including e-cigarettes. In the past, the tobacco industry had identified children and adolescents as the replacement customers for addicted adult customers who quit or died, so retailers should not be selling tobacco products to kids."

While there has been a significant drop in teen smokers over the years, Zeller says there has been a 900% increase in underage e-cigarette use in the past five years. In 2015, 3 million middle and high school students were current e-cigarette users, and data showed high school boys smoked cigars at about the same rate as cigarettes.

How will this be regulated? Zeller says compliance checks will help with regulation.

"The way we enforce that is through contracts with states and territories where we train and commission thousands of adults and minors. These are unannounced inspections that we call compliance checks. A kid tries to buy a pack of cigarettes or smokeless tobacco. The trained adult agent observes the transaction and if there’s a sale, makes a record of that. The first violation results in a letter from the FDA to the retailer telling them they broke the law and starting with the second violation and going forward, there are what we call civil money penalties, where the retailer will have to pay escalating fines to the federal government."

Another provision taking effect Monday deals with vending machines and free samples. It is illegal to sell tobacco products from a vending machine or give away free samples unless the establishment is for adults only and children have no access whatsoever.

Click here for more from the FDA on the tobacco regulations.