FDA to Ban Online Sales of E-Cigarettes?

Proposal could be a boon to traditional retailers

WASHINGTON -- The Food and Drug Administration is considering a ban on online sales of electronic cigarettes as part of a package of regulations the agency is readying for the increasingly popular devices, people familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal.

The FDA, which warned in 2009 that e-cigarettes could pose health risks, has been meeting with e-cigarette makers this week to hear their views on its proposed regulations for the industry. The agency is expected to formally unveil its proposals in October, after several delays.

The "listening sessions" at FDA headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., north of Washington, are part of a series of meetings. At least 20 FDA staffers have attended the gatherings, the people familiar with the matter said, as the agency prepares its proposals for public comment, the newspaper reported.

As part of that effort, the FDA has discussed an online-sales ban to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of minors and is looking at whether the minimum legal age for buying them should be 18 or 19. The agency is also reportedly reviewing television, radio and print advertising standards for the products. Overseeing the project is Mitch Zeller, who became director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products in March.

Zeller said in an interview Thursday that he was 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 told WSJ. He declined to comment on the scope of the regulations.

Zeller added that the listening sessions were conducted at the request of the e-cigarette industry.

Analysts estimate e-cigarette sales in the U.S. will reach $1 billion this year. Bonnie Herzog, with Wells Fargo Securities, predicts sales could hit $10 billion in five years as smokers switch from tobacco to battery-operated nicotine-vaporizing technology.

In a report following the release of the Wall Street Journal report, Herzog said a ban of online e-cigarette sales would likely be positive for brick-and-mortar businesses and the e-cig manufacturers who have established a presence in them.