House Democratic chairman launches probe of e-cigarette makers

House Democratic chairman launches probe of e-cigarette makers

A top House Democrat is launching a probe into e-cigarette companies and their marketing practices in the wake of a mysterious new lung illness being reported in young people.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHouse panel investigating private equity firms' role in surprise medical billing Hotel industry mounts attack on Airbnb with House bill Push on 'surprise' medical bills hits new roadblocks MORE (D-N.J.) sent letters to the four dominant e-cigarette manufacturers, requesting information on their research into the public health impacts of their products, their marketing practices and their roles in the promotion of e-cigarette use by adolescents.  

The letters were sent to Juul Labs Inc., Fontem Ventures, the U.S. division of Japan Tobacco International, and Reynolds American Inc., which collectively represent most of the current e-cigarette market, Pallone said. 

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“I am concerned that [electronic nicotine delivery] products, like JUUL, are continuing to be disseminated, marketed, and used while consumers lack adequate information to evaluate the health implications of using these products,” Pallone wrote to the company’s CEO, Kevin Burns.  

Pallone noted that officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with state health officials are currently investigating 94 possible cases of severe lung illnesses linked to vaping among young people in 14 states, including 30 cases in Wisconsin alone.

Juul stopped selling fruity flavors in retail stores last year amid claims it deliberately marketed to young people, but its competitors have not followed suit. Instead, other companies have steeply discounted their e-cigarette devices and left fruity flavors on store shelves.

E-cigarette companies have been under fire lately as health authorities struggle to deal with what they have called an epidemic of vaping among young people.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gained the authority to regulate tobacco products in 2009, but it wasn’t extended to vaping products until 2016. When the administration changed in 2017, the FDA decided to delay enforcing the laws until 2022.

Last month, a federal judge ordered the FDA to set a 10-month deadline deadline for all companies to submit their products for federal review through the most intensive regulatory pathway.

But the largest vaping industry group sued in an attempt to delay an upcoming deadline for companies to submit their products for regulatory review. The Vaping Technology Association represents about 800 companies.

In the latest twist, Juul this week announced its intention to leave the group and comply with the FDA’s newest deadline. 

“While we have appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with the VTA, we will not renew our membership when it expires later this month as we are not aligned on too many critical policy issues,” Juul said.

The company in a statement said it was “confident in the content and quality of the materials we will submit” as part of the regulatory process. 

In separate statements to The Hill, the companies reiterated their support for preventing youth from becoming addicted to vaping products and said they are committed to making sure their products are marketed only to adults.