Vaping execs tell lawmakers that e-cigarettes are not meant for young people

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Executives from the five largest e-cigarette companies defended their products on Wednesday as House lawmakers pressed them about rising youth nicotine addiction.

The company leaders appeared for a hearing before a subpanel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee just one day before the Trump administration’s limited vaping ban will take effect.

Executives from Juul, Reynolds American, NJOY, Logic and Fontem told lawmakers that they did not deliberately market to young people.

“I fully recognize that the opportunity for the millions of adult smokers who still use combustible cigarettes to have an alternative is at risk if we don’t address this issue,” said K.C. Crosthwaite, Juul’s CEO. “We are focused on combating underage access because I know it puts it all at risk if we don’t make progress here.”

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the full House Energy and Commerce Committee, cast doubt on the companies’ assurances that they did not intentionally target young people.

“I heard all of you over and over again say you are responsible men, men of integrity. That is not true,” Pallone said. “If you wanted to be men of integrity and responsible men, you would not be selling this product, you’d be doing something else.” 

Under questioning from Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the oversight subcommittee chairwoman, the executives admitted that nicotine is addictive and that using their products can lead to nicotine addiction.

After the hearing, DeGette said she was glad the executives were able to acknowledge that nicotine is addictive. However, she said they needed to be more open. 

“I was really disturbed when they refused to answer the questions about the very real health risks of nicotine,” DeGette told reporters. “And this is what has been happening … is the main manufacturers have been trying to convince people, and they’ve convinced many teenagers, that nicotine is not harmful if it’s delivered through e-cigarettes, and that’s just inaccurate.”

However, the executives repeatedly said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should have ultimate regulatory authority, not Congress.

By May 2020, companies that want to sell e-cigarettes in the U.S. will have to receive approval from the FDA to determine whether they’re allowed to stay on the market. The companies will have to prove their products benefit public health. 

“Looking forward, FDA’s Premarket Tobacco Application process provides a pathway for vapor products aligned with public health priorities. We believe vapor products can be manufactured and marketed responsibly within this framework,” said Ricardo Oberlander, president and CEO of Reynolds American.

Democrats also hammered the Trump administration’s vaping policy, arguing it is full of loopholes that make it ineffective. Disposable e-cigarettes, open tank systems and e-liquids of any flavor, including those mixed in vape shops, will all remain available under the policy.

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

Fontem U.S. President Antoine Blonde came under fire from lawmakers for his company’s marketing of disposable products with flavors like “vivid vanilla” and “cherry blast.”  

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

However, both Blonde and NJOY CEO Ryan Nivakoff said they don’t think their disposable products are being used by large numbers of young people.  

“We are not aware of any current issue caused by our disposable flavored and the fact that the FDA excluded the disposables from the guidance completely,” Blonde said. 

Nivakoff said even though his company decided to pull flavored disposable products from the market, it was not because of increased youth use— it was because he felt the FDA should decide whether flavors are appropriate for public health. 

“We felt it was consistent with the spirit of the FDA guidance,” Nivakoff said.

Updated on Feb 6 at 11:40 a.m.

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