Harkin vows crackdown on e-cigs

The Senate's top Democrat on public health issues promised a crackdown on  electronic cigarettes Wednesday as part of his final agenda before retirement.

Retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (R-Iowa) has led the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee since 2009. He said that the rise in e-cigarette smoking is something regulators must "nip in the bud" before negative health consequences take effect.

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"I want to get [the Food and Drug Administration] to be very, very active on e-cigarettes," Harkin told reporters in a private meeting.

Part of that efforts will be encouraging White House budget officials to move quickly on proposed regulations from the FDA. The agency completed and forwarded its rule to the Office of Management and Budget in late October.

Now a $1 billion-plus industry, e-cigarettes have emerged as the next major public health battle in cites across the country. Mostly unregulated at the federal level, the devices vaporize a nicotine solution in order to simulate regular smoking.

Supporters say that "vaping" is a healthier alternative to smoking, leaving out the noxious chemicals found in many conventional cigarettes. Some also say e-cigarettes have helped them quit regular smoking.

But critics argue that the battery-powered devices deliver a more powerful dose of nicotine per puff, posing a serious health risk.

Harkin slammed e-cigarettes in announcing a comprehensive policy plan for his final year in office.

HELP will largely focus on non-health issues, he said, including raising the minimum wage and increasing access to early childhood education.

Harkin also vowed strict oversight of ObamaCare's Prevention and Public Health Fund, a provision he authored, and a focus on keeping the law's definition of essential benefits in place despite GOP opposition.