Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and departing Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb penned an op-ed in The Washington Post on Wednesday warning of a regulatory crackdown on the e-cigarette industry if teen use doesn't decline.
Gottlieb, who announced his resignation as FDA chief earlier this month, had repeatedly raised concerns about teenage use of e-cigarettes, with the FDA threatening to yank the products off the market earlier this year unless youth smoking rates drop in the coming months.
“The e-cigarette craze among teenagers has become an epidemic," the two wrote in the joint op-ed.
"We agree with those who believe that e-cigarettes may offer a lower-risk alternative for adult smokers who still want access to nicotine. But the continued availability of this opportunity to adults is being endangered by the e-cigarette industry’s slowness to address the dangers its products pose to teens,” they continued.
“While we pursue changes to regulatory policy, we call on the industry — manufacturers and retailers — to step up with meaningful measures to reduce the access and appeal of e-cigarettes to young people.”
Azar and Gottlieb touted the Trump administration’s efforts to curb youth smoking rates, including warning companies against advertising e-liquid products in forms that resemble candy and cookies, and issuing fines against retailers who sold e-cigarettes to minors illegally.
The FDA also plans to expand a public education campaign to warn at-risk teens about the effects of nicotine on the brain.
But the duo said regulatory efforts must account for the "potential for e-cigarettes to help addicted cigarette smokers successfully transition to this alternative form of nicotine delivery."
“We hope that, years from now, we don’t look back at this critical point in the history of e-cigarettes as a missed public-health opportunity to help health-concerned smokers addicted to cigarettes. But regulators and public health officials have no choice but to combat the youth trends forcefully and follow available science to guide policy.”
Anti-tobacco advocates had raised concerns that Gottlieb's departure next month could slow e-cigarette regulation efforts at the FDA. Azar said the FDA would not cease its work combatting e-cigarette use among teens.