The announcement thrilled the e-cigarette industry, which was facing a deadline of next year for makers to seek approval to sell any product that entered the market after Feb. 15, 2007.
“Without this delay, over 99 percent of vaper products available on the market today would be banned next year,” said Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, which is an advocate for the industry, in a statement that was almost certainly an exaggeration.
The Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association posted the commissioner’s remarks on its website. “Absolutely, it’s a good thing,” said Ray Story, the chief executive and founder of the organization. “When you look at harm reduction, it’s a no-brainer.”
Makers of tobacco cigarettes were warier because the F.D.A. said it would seek public input on a move to lower nicotine levels in combustible cigarettes to nonaddictive levels. Shares of cigarette makers tumbled after the morning announcement, but the companies issued careful statements in support of the F.D.A.’s move.
Shares of Altria, the maker of Marlboro and other brands, fell about 19 percent, its biggest decline within a trading day in 18 years, before partly recovering. The company called the F.D.A.’s announcement “an important evolution in the agency’s approach to regulating tobacco products and a meaningful step forward in developing a comprehensive regulatory policy that acknowledges the continuum of risk.”
Shares of another cigarette maker, British American Tobacco, fell. The company, which owns R. J. Reynolds, said it looked forward to “participating in a thorough process to develop a comprehensive plan for tobacco and nicotine regulation.”
Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. E-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco cigarettes because they do not contain deadly tar. They instead provide the nicotine fix smokers crave through a liquid that is heated into vapor and inhaled. Although it is the nicotine that hooks the smoker, it is the other chemical compounds in tobacco and tobacco smoke that pose direct health hazards.
The F.D.A. will encourage companies to reduce nicotine levels in tobacco products to less addictive levels, Dr. Gottlieb said.
“The science of nicotine regulation, and understanding what the addictive level is, is well established,” Dr. Gottlieb said. “There is a threshold level below which cigarettes…