New health warnings and child-resistant packaging may be mandated for liquid nicotine used with e-cigarettes and other kinds of emerging tobacco products, federal health officials suggest.
The proposed actions are in response to an increase in nicotine poisonings, often involving infants and children, reported by emergency rooms and poison centers across the United States, the Food and Drug Administration says.
It is considering if "it would be appropriate for the protection of the public health to warn the public about the dangers of nicotine exposure" and in addition "require that some tobacco products be sold in child-resistant packaging," the agency said in a posting online.
The FDA's main concern is e-cigarettes, generating an estimated $1.2 billion in sales to a fast-growing audience that includes many young people.
However, many other new tobacco-related products coming into the market -- beverages, lotions, gels and dissolvable nicotine strips -- are also a matter of worry, the FDA says.
Any proposed warnings and safeguards would be presented for public comment and questions for 60 days, it says.
The FDA has had the authority since 2009 to regulate many aspects of the sale and marketing of traditional tobacco products such as cigarettes, including the ability to restrict advertising aimed at youth and require warning labels on packs and cartons.
However, e-cigarettes - although they utilize nicotine in liquid form - contain no actual tobacco so are not subject to the 2009 law that gave the FDA regulatory powers over tobacco products.
A proposal to bring e-cigarettes and other newer products under its regulatory authority, essentially putting them in the same category as tobacco products, has been in the works for more than a year.
The FDA says it "hopes to finalize the rule this summer."
Proponents of e-cigarettes - which heat liquid nicotine to create an inhalable vapor - say they are a less dangerous alternative to tobacco smoking because they don't have cancer-causing ingredients found in traditional cigarettes.
While conventional cigarette smoking in the United States has declined to around 19 percent of adults, e-cigarette use has surged.
E-cigarette use among high school students increased from 4.5 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014, figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.
That has pushed many traditional tobacco companies to move into the e-cigarette market.
Increased use of e-cigarettes by the young is a concern, say scientists at the CDC who've found nicotine can be harmful to the developing brain.
There is also worry that e-cigarettes might be an avenue for introducing children to nicotine and from there to traditional tobacco products, they say.