A top Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official was grilled by members of Congress on Wednesday for declining to answers questions about the agency’s plan to curb youth vaping rates.
Mitch Zeller, director of the Center for Tobacco Products, would not say whether the FDA is still considering a proposal to clear the market of flavored e-cigarette products it says are appealing to kids.
“There has been no final decision made on this policy. Because there is ongoing discussions that are taking place, I’m not going to be able to get into the substance of what was in that document,” Zeller said about guidance the FDA sent to the White House in October.
That response wasn’t sufficient for Democratic members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee who have grown frustrated with the administration’s slow pace.
“I suggest you go back to the FDA and you tell them the American public is up in arms about this youth e-cigarette epidemic,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy.
“It’s time to get their act together and put this flavor ban together immediately, without delay, before another child gets hooked to these e-cigarettes,” he added.
President Trump and his top health officials said in September the administration would soon issue guidance clearing the market of flavored e-cigarettes to curb youth vaping rates.
The FDA sent that guidance in October to the White House regulatory office, which finished its review last month. But the administration hasn’t given any indication of whether it will move forward with a full flavor ban or pursue a different policy.
Zeller wouldn’t say what the guidance contained, when it will be publicly released, if the White House made changes to it or if the administration will pursue another path to reduce teen vaping rates.
He said that even after the FDA had submitted the final guidance for review, there were discussions ongoing between the White House and heads of federal agencies about what should be in it.
He also said that he wasn’t involved in those conversations but that acting FDA Commissioner Brett Giroir is, along with Joe Grogan, the head of the White House Domestic Policy Council.
Trump was reportedly swayed by the “I Vape, I Vote” campaign, in which vapers threatened to vote against Trump if he cleared the market of flavors.
Vaping advocates argue that removing flavors from the market is harmful to adults who use those products to quit smoking and that raising the purchasing age from 18 to 21 is the best way to reduce teen vaping rates.
But anti-tobacco advocates and public health groups argue flavors shouldn’t be preserved for adults at the expense of children.
Trump held a listening session with advocates from all sides of the issue before Thanksgiving to try to find a compromise.
But Zeller ruled out that a compromise could exclude vape shops from a flavor ban, an idea that has been floated by some advocates.
“Under the law, we wouldn’t be able to differentiate between different retail outlets,” Zeller said.
Some vaping advocates have pushed for the administration to keep menthol on the market for adult users.
Zeller also said the FDA is “grappling” with data recently released that showed kids prefer mint flavors over menthol.
The FDA is thinking about how to “account for that, as we’re trying to make good policy here and do our job to protect kids,” Zeller said.