WASHINGTON — The FDA should be doing more to stop kids from getting addicted to e-cigarettes, House members told FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock, MD, at a hearing on youth vaping on Wednesday.
“I just want to make sure America understands, you have the authority to commit today to preventing millions of kids from becoming addicted to vaping by making the decision and the commitment today to us,” Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) said at the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy hearing. “And if you don’t make that decision today, in this oversight hearing, then the alternative is going to be years and years of delay, while Congress tries to pass a bill, and millions more kids getting addicted … I hear you — you’re not willing to make that commitment to youth today, but I do want the American people to understand, you do have that power.”
Problem in Middle School and High School
Subcommittee chairman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) began the hearing by laying out statistics on the problem. “Today, more than 20% of high schoolers vape, and 5% of middle schoolers vape,” he said. “Those are the same levels that compelled the Surgeon General to first declare a youth vaping epidemic 3 years ago, in 2018. For as long as this subcommittee has existed, we have been investigating this epidemic. This is our fourth hearing on the matter, and I sincerely hope it’s our last, because the problems are solvable.”
Krishnamoorthi focused some of his questions on flavored e-cigarettes, noting that the agency’s 2020 e-cigarette “flavor ban” included two exemptions: one for tobacco and menthol flavors for Juul and other cartridge-based devices, and another for all flavors of disposable e-cigarettes. He said that while 44% of youth vapers used mint Juul e-cigarettes, “and when mint was banned in February 2020 … Guess what — 44.5% of youth [now] use menthol Juuls.” He asked Woodcock whether she would pledge to clear the market of menthol e-cigarettes. She said she couldn’t “prejudge” what the agency would do but added, “What I can say is that menthol has additional properties and pharmacologic properties that I believe potentiate the effects of nicotine addiction, and make it harder to stop either vaping, or smoking.”
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) zeroed in on the 6 million Pre-Market Tobacco Applications (PMTAs) that e-cigarette makers and vape shops have submitted in order to market their products. “A significant number of those PMTA’s were submitted by vape shops, which are required to submit a PMTA for every flavor that they mix,” Johnson said. “This means that a single small vape shop might have applications for, say, 30,000 products,” so those applications make up most of the 6 million, he explained. But looking at the application list in terms of which applicants are responsible for the biggest share of the youth vaping market, “the list goes down to about 44 companies, which is a much more manageable number,” he said.
“Commissioner, the FDA is under court order to finish ruling on applications by Sept. 9, 2021, but has signaled that it will likely miss that deadline,” Johnson said. “Can you commit today to ruling on