FDA chief: Agency 'should have acted sooner' to curb teen vaping

FDA chief: Agency 'should have acted sooner' to curb teen vaping
© Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “should have acted sooner” to stop the epidemic of youth vaping, the agency’s acting commissioner told House lawmakers Wednesday.

“In retrospect, the FDA should have acted sooner, we should have begun regulating these devices sooner,” Ned Sharpless said. “But we’re going to catch up.” 

Sharpless said the agency is working to finalize guidance that will force e-cigarette manufacturers to submit their flavored products for review. When that happens, all current flavored e-cigarettes — except tobacco— will be removed from the market.

ADVERTISEMENT
Lawmakers said the decision to remove most flavored vaping products and subject them to FDA review was long overdue, and questioned why the agency had not acted sooner.

“I firmly believe that many aspects of the youth vaping epidemic could have been addressed if the FDA had moved forward with reviewing all e-cigarettes on the market when it first had the chance two years ago,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PallonePrivate equity-funded doctors coalition spends million lobbying on 'surprise' medical billing Lawmakers set to host fundraisers focused on Nats' World Series trip CBO: Pelosi bill to lower drug prices saves Medicare 5 billion MORE (D-N.J.) said.

The FDA has come under fire recently from lawmakers and public health groups for its seeming unwillingness to regulate the vaping industry, even as teen use skyrocketed. Recent preliminary federal data showed that teen vaping rates doubled in the past two years, with 25 percent of all high school students reporting they had vaped in the past 30 days.

The agency gained the authority to regulate tobacco products in 2009, but it wasn’t extended to vaping products until 2016. When the Trump administration took over in 2017, then-FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb enacted a plan to reduce nicotine levels in traditional cigarettes, and saw e-cigarettes as a potential tool to help people quit. 

“We must remember the goal was to help currently addicted adult smokers quit. It was a package deal, with regulation of nicotine at its center. The legitimate e-cigs, while not safe, are less harmful than smoking,” Gottlieb tweeted Wednesday. 

As a result, the agency decided to delay enforcing the laws until 2022, much to the frustration of public health groups. In response to a federal lawsuit, the agency moved that timeline up again, to next spring, though companies can file applications sooner.

“Now we are open for business to receive these applications,” Sharpless said on Wednesday.