Attorney General Healey proposes banning the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors

Attorney General Maura Healey on Tuesday proposed new regulations that would ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, prohibit free product giveaways or sampling, and require the devices be kept out of the reach of customers at stores.

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Currently there is no state law prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors in Massachusetts. Several cities and towns have approved their own local age restrictions.

The regulations would treat e-cigarettes like other tobacco products including cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco — including banning most sales of e-cigarettes except through face-to-face purchases and not through vending machines except in adults-only establishments.

The regulations would also define as an unfair or deceptive practice the sale of nicotine liquid or gel without the use of child-resistant packaging that meets federal standards.

The regulations don't extend all current smoking prohibitions to e-cigarettes, including the state's workplace smoking ban. Healey said she supports legislation that would require users of e-cigarettes to abide by additional smoking regulations.

The metal or plastic battery-powered devices resemble cigarettes but heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating vapor that users inhale.

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While e-cigarettes contain fewer toxic substances than burning traditional cigarettes, health officials warn they shouldn't be considered harmless and say much more needs to be known about long-term effects of e-cigarette use.

Critics worry that the devices could keep smokers addicted or act as a gateway to hook new users.

Healey detailed the proposed regulations at a Statehouse press conference, joined by anti-smoking activists and lawmakers who have sponsored bills aimed at e-cigarettes.

The proposed regulations will be filed with the state secretary's office followed by a public comment period set to end on April 24.

A day before the public comment period ends, on April 23, there will be a public hearing on the proposed regulations.

After that, Healey's office will have a chance to amend the proposed regulations based on the public response. At that point they will be submitted as final.

There is no deadline, but the final regulations are expected be filed sometime in the spring.

The new regulations don't require the approval of state lawmakers or the governor.

It's not the first time the attorney general's office has addressed the issue of electronic cigarettes.

In 2013, former Attorney General Martha Coakley co-authored a letter signed by 39 other attorneys general urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate electronic cigarettes in the same way it regulates other tobacco products.

On its website, the FDA says that because e-cigarettes have not been fully studied, consumers currently don't know any potential risks of e-cigarettes when used as intended.

The FDA also said consumers don't know how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use, whether there are any benefits associated with using these products, or whether e-cigarettes may lead young people to try other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes.