Durbin urges acting FDA chief to crack down on e-cigarettes

Durbin urges acting FDA chief to crack down on e-cigarettes
© Greg Nash

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to immediately remove kid-friendly electronic cigarette flavors from the market and crack down on Juul’s claims that it can help people quit smoking, a top Senate Democrat said Wednesday.

In a letter to Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats pledge to fight Trump detention policy during trip to border Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations MORE (D-Ill.) said he doesn’t understand why the agency isn’t taking action to address the sharp increase in youth vaping.

Durbin outlined actions he thinks Sharpless needs to take to curb youth use of e-cigarettes, but said that after meeting with Sharpless earlier this month, he does not think the acting commissioner has any intention of dealing with the issue. 

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“It is my belief that any person leading the FDA … must, first and foremost, feel a deep sense of responsibility to protect the health and well-being of all Americans, especially our nation’s children. Unfortunately, based on our meeting, I do not have confidence that you are that leader,” Durbin said.

Durbin urged Sharpless not to appeal a federal judge’s ruling earlier this month that would require the agency to speed up its review of thousands of e-cigarettes on the market

“We know that kids are attracted to these products because of the kid-friendly flavors that your agency is currently, and inexplicably, refusing to regulate,” Durbin wrote. “You have the explicit authority to end FDA’s senseless decision to suspend public health review of e-cigarettes and cigars and take action today.”

Durbin also said the agency needs to immediately enforce its own “deeming rule” which prohibits any new e-cigarette product from coming to market after Aug. 8, 2016, without FDA approval.

According to Durbin, “new products are coming to market seemingly daily” without FDA approval. And yet, he said “FDA has not ordered the removal of a single product for this violation.”

For example, Durbin noted that popular e-cigarette company Juul’s mango and “cool cucumber” flavors did not come to market until 2017, and they did so without FDA approval.

“It defies logic that a federal regulatory agency, such as FDA, would not have an understanding of which products are on the market legally and which are on the market illegally,” Durbin said, and called for the agency to remove all e-cigarette products that were not widely and commercially available before the 2016 deeming rule took effect.

Durbin also said Sharpless needs to stop Juul from marketing itself as a way to help adults quit smoking.

“FDA has the authority to stop this deceptive marketing campaign. Use it,” Durbin wrote.

The FDA told The Hill it has received the letter and will respond directly to Durbin.

An agency spokesman said Sharpless "is committed to continuing to tackle the troubling epidemic of e-cigarette use among kids. This includes preventing youth access to, and appeal of, flavored tobacco products like e-cigarettes and cigars, taking action against manufacturers and retailers who illegally market or sell these products to minors, and educating youth about the dangers of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products."

Updated 7:50 p.m.