Senator calls for FDA oversight of e-cigarettes

Photo: Jonny Williams / / (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown (D) called out tobacco companies Thursday, stating they are delaying the Food and Drug Administration's efforts to regulate e-cigarettes and cigars.

Citing a statistic that hundreds of Americans die prematurely every year due to tobacco use, Sen. Brown said "Big Tobacco" has a need to attract new customers, and he believes those new customers are younger than they should be.

His concern is marketing used by e-cigarette companies, that use colors and flavors to "attract young people."

"Every day of delay, for these rules to stop them from targeting our children is millions of dollars more in profit," he said.

Brown said tobacco companies are fighting the FDA's proposed rule and delaying it with lobbyists and lawyers.

"Time is their friend and we've got to fight back."

The FDA proposed to expand its authority to include previously unregulated tobacco products like electronic cigarettes.

"It's morally despicable what the tobacco companies are doing," he said.

Sen. Brown said he wants the FDA to stand between children and marketers who are "trying to addict them." He sent a letter to the FDA outlining his concerns to director Shaun Donovan:

It has been nearly seven years since the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act) was signed into law. It has been five years since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first indicated it would take action to regulate all tobacco products. It has been two years since the FDA formally proposed a rule, called the deeming rule, to extend its authority over all currently unregulated tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars. It has been six months since the FDA sent that rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for final review, which is past the standard 90 day period for OMB review.
Finalization of this rule is long overdue and we request that OMB complete its review of the FDA's final tobacco deeming rule as soon as possible. Every day that we wait further imperils the health and wellbeing of our nation's children. In just the past two years, e-cigarette use among middle and high school students increased by 2.23 million youth. Your leadership is needed to finish the task and ensure that all tobacco products are regulated.
When the Tobacco Control Act was signed into law in 2009, FDA was given the tools to significantly reduce the 480,000 deaths caused by tobacco products each year and the $170 billion in annual health care costs attributable to treating tobacco-caused disease. The Tobacco Control Act gave the FDA immediate authority over cigarettes, smokeless, and roll-your-own tobacco, and it authorized the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to deem other tobacco products subject to FDA's jurisdiction. Yet it is now seven years since the law was enacted and the Administration has yet to assert its regulatory authority over e-cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products that have serious public health consequences.
Without the assertion of FDA authority under the deeming rule, we have seen irresponsible marketing of products and the use of sweet flavors, like cotton candy, gummy bear, and bubble gum, that clearly appeal to youth. With more than 7,000 of these flavors, it is no wonder that use of e-cigarettes by youth has skyrocketed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FDA, there has been a ten-fold increase in youth use of e-cigarettes between 2011 and 2015, from 1.5 percent to 16.0 percent among high school students and from 0.6 percent to 5.3 percent among middle school students. The CDC estimates that there were 3 million youth e-cigarette users in 2015.

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