Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Electronic Cigarettes Get Boost From Federal Court Ruling

Galen Kipe puffs on an electronic cigarette in Ashboro, N.C., in August.
Gerry Broome
Galen Kipe puffs on an electronic cigarette in Ashboro, N.C., in August.

Is it legal to sell an electronic cigarette? The case is looking stronger.

An federal appeals court shot down the Food and Drug Administration's efforts to block the importation of these cigarettes, which deliver a blast of nicotine vapor instead of smoke. The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, upholds a lower court's decision.

The upshot? The court says the agency can regulate the electronic devices as tobacco products but not as medical devices or drugs. That means the FDA, which got sweeping powers to regulate tobacco products in 2009, can't ban electronic cigarettes.

Sottera, marketer of NJOY e-cigarettes, welcomed the decision, saying it would lift the current import restrictions and pave the way for future sales, according to Reuters.

In September, the FDA fired off letters warning five sellers of e-cigarettes supplies about alleged problems with their products.

As NPR's Debbie Elliott reported in April, the FDA's fundamental concern is that people will get the erroneous impression the e-cigarettes have been proved healthier. "We're concerned about the potential for addiction to and abuse of these products," an FDA spokeswoman told her. "Some people may mistakenly perceive these products to be safer alternatives to conventional tobacco use."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.