Do e-cigarettes cause more harm than good? Are teens buying them and getting hooked on traditional tobacco products with e-cigs as a gateway, or are these alternatives a great way to kick the habit? Anti-tobacco activists have been pressing the FDA for years to get involved, and they have finally proposed their first rules for the market:

The Food and Drug Administration will for the first time regulate the booming market of electronic cigarettes, as well as cigars, pipe tobacco and hookahs, under a proposal to be released Thursday.

The move would begin to place restrictions on e-cigarettes, a nearly $2 billion industry thatfor years has operated outside the reach of federal regulators. If adopted, the government’s plan would force manufacturers to curb sales to minors, stop handing out free samples, place health warning labels on their products and disclose the ingredients. Makers of e-cigarettes also would be banned from making health-related claims without scientific evidence.

The FDA isn’t exactly rushing into regulatory oversight. Congress passed a law five years ago that gave the FDA the authority to create regulatory oversight into e-cigarettes and other tobacco products, but they’ve only now proposed their first rules for the industry. That has been a source of frustration for activists:

Congress passed a law in 2009 giving the FDA broad power to regulate cigarettes, including requirements for new warning labels, restrictions on ads and explicit approval of new products. The law also gave the FDA the authority to broaden its jurisdiction over other tobacco-related products. While the agency has long indicated that it planned to do just that, action has been slow in coming.

“In the absence of any meaningful regulation, the e-cigarette manufacturers have acted as if it’s the wild, wild West, with no rules and no restraints,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who had not seen the particulars of the FDA proposal. “Their advertising is exactly the same type of advertising that made cigarettes so appealing to young people” decades ago.

The “wild, wild West”? Pardon me if my recollection is a bit off, but the wild in the wild wild West didn’t refer to a lack of FDA oversight. The product has not gotten regulatory attention, or arguably enough research into its health impacts, but that’s hardly the same thing as anarchy and violence. It’s that kind of hyperbole that makes most Americans skeptical of the motives behind the push to expand regulation, even where an arguably rational basis exists.

Including cigars and pipe tobacco in the effort makes skepticism even more understandable. E-cigs are a relatively new phenomenon that might require more study, but that’s not true of cigars — even those sold with fruit flavoring, which to this occasional cigar smoker sounds awful. Nor is it true of pipe tobacco or hookah products. Those categories of tobacco do not (usually) get inhaled and do not have the same kind of massive consumption that cigarettes do.

Furthermore, it’s a little odd that the FDA is choosing to crack down on all of these at the precise moment that states are moving to legalize medicinal and recreational marijuana, which gets deeply inhaled and is hallucinogenic to boot. Yes, this is a federal effort and those are states making legalization choices, but the voter impulse on consumables is decidedly libertarian these days. Is that so difficult to notice in the Beltway?