Members of Congress on Wednesday pressed the acting chief of the Food and Drug Administration to clear the market of flavored vapes and tobacco products that they said entice kids into the habit.
The lawmakers also slammed the regulators for failing to prove claims that the flavored products help adults wean off smoking.
“This is the Super Bowl for the FDA’s tobacco effort. I’m afraid they’re not ready for primetime. I hope they prove me wrong,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat at the forefront of the anti-vape effort, told members of the House Oversight Committee.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois and other Democrats on the committee said the FDA’s crackdown on cartridge-based e-cigarettes under the Trump administration didn’t go far enough. Too many loopholes remain, she said, including the availability of menthol flavors and disposable products.
The use of e-cigarette among high school students remains high, she noted, while regulators spend their time conducting an exhaustive review of what’s on the market.
“It’s time to reevaluate the public health threats that are entirely within our ability to control,” Mr. Krishnamoorthi said.
The FDA, under a court order, required e-cigarette and tobacco companies to submit applications by September 2020 to keep their vaping products on shelves. Regulators must decide by Sept. 9 whether the products are targeted at kids and if they bolster public health by helping adults to quit smoking — a key talking point for vape-product makers who say their products are beneficial.
Acting FDA Commission Janet Woodcock said her agency received 6.5 million marketing-authority applications for e-cig products and will determine whether they have a net benefit.
Dr. Woodcock repeatedly assured Mr. Krishnamoorthi, who chairs an oversight subcommittee on the economy and consumer policy, that she will use her authority to protect kids.
“We are working furiously on application review in order to move on from sort of a Wild West, unregulated marketplace,” she said.
Dr. Woodcock said that if products entice minors to take up vaping, they won’t be allowed on the market. And she said regulators will continue to take action against companies that market products that resemble toys or seem designed to be concealed in backpacks.
Vaping has been a source of concern for Capitol Hill for years, though the issue is coming into focus again as the coronavirus pandemic eases.
“There was a youth vaping epidemic in this country before the coronavirus, before this subcommittee was created, and before Acting Commissioner Woodcock took the helm at FDA. And the youth vaping epidemic continues today,” Mr. Krishnamoorthi said.
Mr. Durbin said one in five high school students use e-cigarettes, so the FDA must step in.
“These alarming trends are erasing the historic progress we’ve made reducing youth tobacco use,” he testified. “Who’s the cop on the beat to whom we entrust our children? It’s the Food and Drug Administration, and this agency has been timid and reluctant for way too long.”
The lawmakers said kids are migrating to menthol vapes and disposable e-cigs, so broader actions are needed.
“Kids get it. If we don’t take this seriously across the board, they will find those loopholes and continue their addiction,” Mr. Durbin said.
Mr. Durbin said the fight is personal. His father, a long-time smoker, died at age 53 from lung cancer.