(ABC News) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced this morning plans to regulate electronic cigarettes.
The proposed regulations will require that the manufacturers disclose to the FDA what is in their products and will require that the devices come with a warning label. Although e-cigarette sales to minors will be prohibited, there are currently no advertising restrictions.
The regulation has been long-anticipated as millions of Americans have started using e-cigarettes. The devices are battery-operated nicotine inhalers.
Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News's chief health and medical editor, said public health officials are concerned that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to further tobacco use.
“Data show use of e-cigarettes by high school and junior high school students is on the rise," Besser said. "Once addicted to nicotine, will users move on to using tobacco with all the inherent health risks?”
“Countering the view are those who view e-cigarettes as an important step towards risk reduction for current cigarette smokers," he added. "They do not deliver the carcinogens that are the cause of so many health problems.”
There are more than 250 brands of e-cigarettes and an estimated 4 million Americans use them, according to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association. However, whether the small devices are “safer” than traditional cigarettes remains unproven. Without FDA regulation it’s unclear how much nicotine or other chemicals each brand of e-cigarette holds.
A widely publicized study into the safety of e-cigarettes was done when researchers analyzed only two leading brands and concluded the devices did contain trace elements of hazardous compounds, including a chemical that is the main ingredient found in antifreeze.
Despite today’s announcement, it will be months to years before concrete regulation is implemented. First there will be a six-month review process after the 75 day comment period. It will be another two years before current products need to be approved by the FDA and 25 months before they need to display warning labels.
ABC News' Liz Neporent contributed to this article.
Click here for more from ABC News.