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FDA Considering Ban on Online E-Cigarette Sales

SILVER SPRING, Md. – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is moving closer to issuing regulations for electronic cigarettes, with a ban on online sales a likely first step.

The regulatory agency has been meeting with electronic cigarette companies this week to hear their views on its proposed regulations for the industry. The agency is expected to formally unveil its proposals in October, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In April 2011, the FDA said it would regulate electronic cigarettes under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, as CSNews Online previously reported. However, until now there has not been a lot of movement on the subject.

The "listening sessions" being held this week at the FDA's Silver Spring, Md., headquarters are just one part of a series of meetings. At least 20 FDA staffers have attended the gatherings, sources familiar with the matter said, as the agency prepares its proposals for public comment.

As part of this effort, the FDA has discussed an online-sales ban to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of minors, and it is looking at whether the minimum legal age for buying them should be 18 or 19. The agency is also reviewing television, radio and print advertising standards for the products, the Journal reported.

In an interview Thursday, Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, said he is working toward publishing proposed regulations in October. "It is true that more research is needed on the health effects of e-cigarettes. However, we do not need more research on whether e-cigarettes should or should not be included in proposed FDA regulations," he said. He declined to comment on the scope of the regulations.

News of the potential ban on online electronic cigarette sales was not surprising to the industry.

"We have long been saying that we expect tight regulations of e-cigs and that we wouldn't be surprised if an online ban was eventually enacted," said Bonnie Herzog, managing director of tobacco, beverage and consumer research at Wells Fargo Securities LLC. "If online sales are banned, we'd expect most of the online sales volume (currently $500 million to $625 million) to move to traditional retailers, where we believe e-cig sales have passed $1 billion."

She added that a ban on online sales will be a plus for electronic cigarette companies that already have a notable presence in the retail scene, such as Lorillard Inc.'s blu and NJOY.

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