House agriculture bill takes aim at FDA e-cig rules

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The House Appropriations Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Subcommittee approved a $20.65 billion agriculture appropriations bill Thursday that would make it harder for the Food and Drug Administration to remove electronic cigarettes on the market now from store shelves.

If enacted, the bill would keep the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products from forcing e-cigarettes already on the market to go through a lengthy and potentially costly Premarket Tobacco Review application process under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The FDA would still be allowed to regulate how the products are made, packaged and sold. 

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Heath and industry groups have been waiting for the FDA to finalize the “deeming regulation” it first proposed in April 2014 that gives the agency the authority to regulate all tobacco products, including cigars, e-cigarettes, pipe tobacco and certain dissolvable products like nicotine gels, among other things.

The American Vaping Association praised the House Appropriations’ subcommittee for approving the bill.

"Without action by Congress, the FDA's proposed regulations threaten to ban 99 percent-plus of vapor products currently available on the market,” AVA President Gregory Conley said in a news release. “This would be a disaster not only for thousands of small businesses, but also public health.”

He went onto say there’s clear evidence from around the world that vapor products are helping smokers quit smoking.

"It is unconscionable to effectively ban the sale of tens of thousands of vapor products while leaving combustible cigarettes freely available,” he said. 

Public health groups however are strongly urging Congress to reject the language in the bill.

In a joint statement, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Cancer Action Network and the American Heart Association said the bill would “significantly limit” FDA’s ability to protect children from flavored cigars and e-cigarettes.

“Rarely has Congress so blatantly put the special interests of the tobacco industry above the health of America’s kids,” the groups said.

Under the FDA’s proposal, the groups said all e-cigarettes and cigars on the market now would remain available so long as they file an application with the FDA within two years.

“The FDA’s approach sufficiently accommodates the industry while preserving the FDA’s authority to review the impact of each product on public health,” they said.

This story was updated at 2:30 to include statements from public health groups that oppose the bill as it's currently written.