Lawmakers Press E-Cig Firms on Vaping

The FDA’s guidance on flavored products also drew heat at the House subcommittee hearing.

February 06, 2020

WASHINGTON—E-cigarette manufacturers yesterday told members of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee that they are focused on preventing underage access to vaping products and aren’t marketing to young people. Lawmakers pushed back, blaming the companies for the youth vaping problem, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Witnesses at the “Vaping in America: E-Cigarette Manufacturers’ Impact on Public Health” hearing included K.C. Crosthwaite, CEO of JUUL Labs; Ricardo Oberlander, president and CEO of Reynolds American; Ryan Nivakoff, CEO of NJOY; Antoine Blonde, president, Fontem U.S., and Jerry Loftin, president, Logic Technology Development.

In his opening statement, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) told the e-cigarette companies that they “need to acknowledge [their] responsibility” to protect young people from nicotine addiction.

“I fully recognize that the opportunity for the millions of adult smokers who still use combustible cigarettes to have an alternative is at risk if we don’t address this issue,” JUUL CEO Crosthwaite told the subcommittee, the Hill reported. “We are focused on combating underage access because I know it puts it all at risk if we don’t make progress here.”

Several subcommittee members criticized the Food and Drug Administration’s flavored e-cigarette guidance, which was released in January and goes into effect today. Subcommittee Chairman Diana DeGette (D-CO) said that while the guidance makes it harder for “youth to get e-cigarettes at gas stations,” they now can get the flavored products from vape shops.

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) maintained that the FDA walked back its September 2019 announcement that that agency would ban all flavors due to JUUL’s lobbying efforts. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) expressed concern that minors will move to menthol products now that mint has been banned, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) expressed concerns about the guidance, which exempts flavored disposable products.

Subcommittee members, however, praised the Trump Administration’s December move that increased the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) raised concerns about a black market for e-cigarette products, asking the witnesses to explain the difficulty of identifying counterfeit products that are manufactured in another country. Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) urged the committee to investigate counterfeit and black-market products likely to enter the market.

Chairman Pallone indicated that a vote on his bill to ban all tobacco flavors would take place soon, but he did not provide details.

State Efforts

Meanwhile, lawmakers in some states are forging ahead with their own vaping regulations. Both Nebraska and Iowa lawmakers are considering raising the minimum age for vaping to 21 years old, as well as other measures to restrict vaping products.

According to U.S. News, an Iowa Senate subcommittee has advanced a measure to raise that state’s legal vaping age from 18 to 21, which will eliminate conflict with the new federal law. The Iowa proposal would bar anyone younger than 21 from buying, possessing or using vape, tobacco or nicotine products.

In Nebraska, a legislative committee is pushing its own 21-and-older bill. Plus, one Nebraska lawmaker plans a renewed effort to ban vaping indoors, and another will seek to apply state tobacco taxes to vaping products. Because of the recent federal changes to tobacco and vaping regulations, all states may need to raise their own minimum age limits to 21. States that contradict federal law are sometimes at risk of losing federal funding.