Durbin: FDA Commissioner Refuses To Address Youth E-Cigarette Epidemic

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today met with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Acting Commissioner Dr. Ned Sharpless to discuss FDA regulation of kid-friendly e-cigarette and cigar flavorings.  During the meeting, Durbin urged Sharpless to use his authority as Acting FDA Commissioner to address the public health epidemic of youth use of e-cigarettes, by enforcing the Tobacco Control Act and “deeming rule” and immediately removing kid-friendly flavors from the market—flavors such as cereal pop, mom’s custard, razzleberry, fruit medley, gummy bears, and whipped cream. Despite proclamations and initial regulatory action from his predecessors at FDA, Sharpless would not commit to taking action until 2021—despite soaring rates of youth e-cigarette use.

“It became clear during my meeting with Acting Commissioner Sharpless that he has absolutely no intention of taking legal action he is empowered to take to protect our nation’s children from the addiction of e-cigarettes,” Durbin said.  “Dr. Sharpless made it very clear that no action would be taken to ban kid-friendly vaping flavors during this President’s term in office.”

This year, Durbin and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), U.S. Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO-01) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD-08), reintroduced the Stopping Appealing Flavors in E-Cigarettes for Kids (SAFE Kids) Act.  This bipartisan and bicameral legislation would crack down on kid-friendly flavorings in highly-addictive e-cigarettes and cigars by placing strong restrictions on e-cigarette flavorings and ban cigar flavorings altogether.

Specifically, the SAFE Kids Act would:

  • Place Strong Restrictions on E-Cigarette Flavorings: The bill would generally restrict flavored e-cigarette products, but allow manufacturers one year to prove to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that their e-cigarette flavorings meet three criteria. If companies can prove that their e-cigarette flavors meet these three criteria, they can remain on the market:
  1. Help adults quit smoking cigarettes;
  2. Do not increase youth initiation of nicotine or tobacco products; and
  3. Do not increase the risk of harm to the person using the flavor.
  • Ban Cigar Flavorings Altogether:  Given that there is no public health benefit to smoking cigars, the bill would ban the use of all flavors in cigars within one year.

Further, Durbin—along with 10 of his Senate Democratic colleagues—recently launched an investigation into JUUL Labs, Inc. by sending a letter to CEO Kevin Burns slamming the company for its partnership with Big Tobacco giant Altria, and questioning its marketing tactics to hook children on nicotine with kid-appealing flavors. The Senators posed an extensive series of questions and made requests for documents pertaining to JUUL’s secret business practices around youth marketing and intentions to partner with Altria, and whether the vaping industry titan is in violation of regulations or commitments made to the FDA. Federal public health agencies have identified JUUL as being largely responsible for fueling the e-cigarette epidemic among America’s youth, while no clinical evidence has emerged in the United States of JUUL’s use as a potential tobacco cessation tool.

For decades, the United States has been successful at reducing youth tobacco use, including by reducing cigarette smoking among high school students from 28 percent in 2000 to eight percent in 2018. However, these gains are at risk of being reversed because of newer tobacco products being marketed and sold to children—especially electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) like JUUL and kid-friendly flavors (fruit medley, cake batter, mango, gummy bear, whipped cream). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco use among our nation’s children is now increasing. Between 2017 and 2018, use of tobacco products among high school students grew more than 38 percent, with nearly five million youth now using a tobacco product. This alarming increase has been driven largely by an increase in e-cigarette use.

Over the last year, the United States saw a 78 percent increase in high-school use of e-cigarettes, and a 48 percent increase in middle-school use of e-cigarettes. Flavors are a primary reason why youth use e-cigarettes and cigars. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, eighty-two percent of current youth e-cigarette users and 74 percent of current youth cigar smokers said they used these products “because they come in flavors I like.”