FDA noncommittal on e-cigarette action



Despite some strong words by the White House in September 2019 regarding action to help curb the growing epidemic of youth vaping and e-cigarette use, a Food and Drug Administration official deflected questions on when the agency would act and what actions it was planning on taking.

“I was actually shocked that, in a hearing that is focused in part on the youth vaping epidemic [that] your testimony, both written and oral here, made no mention of the administration’s Sept. 11 announcement that it intended to clear the market of all unauthorized non–tobacco-flavored vaping products,” said Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, during a Nov. 13 hearing to Mitchell Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “Why is that not included in your testimony?”

Director Zeller would only offer a vague response, testifying that the agency is “committed to doing everything that we can to prevent kids from using any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, and that we are continuing to develop a policy approach that aligns with that concern.”

When Sen. Murray pressed further, Director Zeller deflected: “I think that any questions that the committee has about the announcement that the White House and anything related to what remains a deliberative process on policy is best referred to the White House itself.”

He would not even offer any perspective on when the FDA might take actual regulatory action when asked about it by Sen. Murray.

“I can’t give you a specific timeline, Senator, other than to say that the deliberative process continues,” Director Zeller responded, telling her that “I really would refer you and the committee to the White House to ask specific questions about where we are.”

The hearing, called to examine the response to lung illnesses and rising youth e-cigarette usage, shed no new light on the issue. And while Director Zeller outlined the numerous educational campaigns being aimed at convincing youth to not use e-cigarettes, Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) questioned whether the FDA was doing an adequate job.

The FDA, from late 2017 to the end of 2020, “will wind up investing about $150 million in a massive, multimedia public education campaign to get the word out to kids” on the dangers of vaping, Director Zeller said, adding that the agency is “aggressively enforcing” youth access restrictions in targeting sellers of e-cigarette products to minors.

“Well, obviously we are not making much progress with youth use ... if one in four of American high schoolers, according to your statistics, are using e-cigarettes,” Sen. Alexander said.

While most on the committee were focused on the rising numbers of youth vaping and e-cigarette usage, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) cautioned that any regulatory action, particularly a ban on all flavored e-cigarette products, would adversely affect adults, particularly those who are turning to e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool.

His solution, noting that it is already illegal for kids to be purchasing vaping and e-cigarette products, was to increase the penalties for those found selling to minors, adding that “most adults are using the flavors as well” and it could lead them back to combustible tobacco products if they are prevented from accessing flavored e-cigarettes.

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