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E-cigarette executives set for grilling over youth vaping

E-cigarette executives set for grilling over youth vaping
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Executives from five of the largest e-cigarette companies are set to be grilled by House lawmakers on Wednesday about rising youth vaping rates, the first hearing since the Trump administration announced a limited ban on vaping flavors.

The committee will hear from the CEOs of Juul, Reynolds American and NJOY, as well as the presidents of Logic and Fontem.

Juul has long been the target of lawmakers’ ire as congressional investigators have probed the company’s role in the youth vaping crisis. But the hearing will mark the first time that executives from the other companies have testified in Congress about youth vaping rates.

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The companies represent 97 percent of the $19.3 billion U.S. e-cigarette market, according to Rep. Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGette20 years later, the FDA must lift restrictions on medication abortion care Overnight Energy: Trump officials finalize plan to open up protected areas of Tongass to logging | Feds say offshore testing for oil can proceed despite drilling moratorium | Dems question EPA's postponement of inequality training Democrats question EPA postponement of environmental inequality training MORE (D-Colo.), chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee, which is holding the hearing.

“Nobody using these vaping products really knows how they will affect their health,” DeGette said in a statement.

“Yet, while consumers remain in the dark of the possible health consequences, these companies are making billions of dollars as they lure a new generation of young people into a lifetime of nicotine addiction,” DeGette said.

Lawmakers want information about how the companies are marketing their products, the possible health effects vaping products may pose to those who use them and the role each company believes it should be playing in the ongoing effort to curb the nation’s teen-vaping epidemic.

“I think what I’m hoping to hear is some sense of accountability by these manufacturers, by the CEOs, and why they have not stepped forward. Or maybe that’s what we’ll hear — they are stepping forward to do something about this,” said Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyPelosi, Mnuchin continue COVID-19 talks amid dwindling odds for deal Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Hillicon Valley: Facebook to label posts if candidates prematurely declare victory | Supreme Court hears landmark B Google, Oracle copyright fight | House Dem accuses Ratcliffe of politicizing election security intel MORE (D-Ill.), a member of the subcommittee. 

Under the final policy on flavored vaping products, the Trump administration will strip the market of popular fruit and mint pod-based flavors, but not tobacco and menthol.

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Pod-based products, like those manufactured by Juul and NJOY, are the most popular with teens, according to government surveys. 

Recent federal data showed that more than 5 million middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes within a 30-day window.

Disposable e-cigarettes, open tank systems and e-liquids of any flavor, including those mixed in vape shops, will also remain available under the policy. 

The Trump administration's decision left public health advocates and many lawmakers unsatisfied with what they saw as a gigantic exemption for the industry. Vaping industry critics will be watching the hearing closely.

“The new administration plan leaves on the market literally millions of flavored products,” said Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. 

Myers said the executives should be asked to commit to removing all of their flavored products from the market, even those that are exempted from the administration’s ban. 

“Are they prepared to make a commitment to take from the market all of the flavors that have fueled the youth e-cigarette epidemic?” Myers said.

After May, companies that want to sell e-cigarettes in the U.S. will have to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and prove their products benefit public health. 

Executives should also be asked whether they plan to file applications for products that are banned under the current policy, like mango and mint flavors, that studies show are appealing to kids, Myers said.

Democrats and other public health advocates said they are also concerned companies will exploit what they say is a major loophole in Trump's ban by continuing to sell mint and simply labeling it as menthol. 

Last year, Juul stopped selling its most popular fruity flavors, but kept menthol and tobacco. At the same time, the company pledged it would not sell any other flavors under any name, unless they are first authorized by FDA.

NJOY will stop distributing flavored versions of their products on Thursday, the effective date of the FDA vaping guidance.

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But advocates also said they don’t want lawmakers to get caught up relitigating past industry actions. They argue the vaping industry has already caused enough damage to young people; they want to know what the companies will do to stop it going forward.

“This is an ongoing and constantly unfolding adolescent public health crisis,” said Meredith Berkman, co-founder of Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes. 

She cited anecdotal evidence that kids are using disposable vaping products in sweet flavors — products that companies can continue selling under the administration’s new policy. 

NJOY, Fontem and Logic all make disposable products. NJOY Daily — the company’s disposable e-cigarette — comes in flavors like “tropical twist,” “blue + black berry” and “apple melon.” 

Berkman also wants lawmakers to ask the executives about whether their companies lobbied the White House for exemptions and if they ever received reports their products were being used by children.

“We would like to hear more about what measures these companies are taking — if any — to aggressively attack that problem,” Berkman said.

Updated on Feb. 5 at 10:22 a.m.