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US lawmaker faults FDA chief for lax oversight of teen vaping. Calls decision to delay action a 'big, big whopping mistake'

Key Points
  • U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey blamed Gottlieb's decision to delay a regulation that would have taken e-cigarettes off the market this year.
  • Lowey called Gottlieb's handling of the youth e-cigarette use "a big, big, whopping mistake."
Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) listens during a House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., March 8, 2018.
Toya Sarno | Bloomberg | Getty Images

U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey criticized Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb for delaying a regulation that would have temporarily removed electronic cigarettes from the market this year, saying it helped fuel an epidemic in teen use and calling it a "big, big whopping mistake."

The FDA in 2016 said companies would need to submit e-cigarettes already on the market for review in 2018. These products would have been able to stay on shelves for another year while the FDA reviewed companies' submissions. 

In 2017, Gottlieb extended the application deadline to 2022 from 2018.

"The FDA's decision to take its foot off the gas while thousands of products have entered market has led to the epidemic we face today," House Appropriations Chairwoman Lowey, D-N.Y., told Gottlieb at a hearing Wednesday.

About one-fifth of high school seniors said they vaped last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's annual National Youth Tobacco Survey.

Gottlieb said increasing youth e-cigarette use is one of the biggest public health challenges the agency faces. While the FDA sees vaping as a potential way to get adult smokers to quit, e-cigarettes are incredibly popular among young people.

"We're trying to thread a public health needle here where we preserve some element of the availability of these products for adults while foreclosing them for kids, or at least really dramatically curtailing the availability of kids to access these products," he said.

The FDA in November said it will limit sales of most flavors to age-restricted stores like vape shops, though it still has not issued guidelines on the policy. Gottlieb said Wednesday he will implement those soon.

He also renewed his threat to remove e-cigarettes from the market if trends don't improve.

— Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when the FDA's original rule would have taken e-cigarettes off the market. The original policy would have removed products in 2019.