Health and Science

Congress grills FDA for dropping the ball on vaping even as teen use surged

Key Points
  • The hearing marks the first time the acting FDA commissioner has appeared before Congress since U.S. health officials identified a mysterious lung disease traced back to vaping.
  • The illness has sickened at least 530 people and killed at least nine.
  • Health officials have tied the illness to vaping, although they are still trying to identify the exact cause.
A man uses a vape as he walks on Broadway in New York City, September 9, 2019.
Andrew Kelly | Reuters

A top ranking House Democrat blamed a spike in teen e-cigarette use and an outbreak of a deadly vaping illness on a 2017 decision by the Food and Drug Administration to delay its review of those products.

"I firmly believe that many aspects of the youth vaping epidemic could have been addressed if the FDA had moved forward with reviewing all e-cigarettes on the market when it first had the chance two years ago" Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said at a hearing on vaping Wednesday.

"Here we are over two years later, and unfortunately my concerns have come to fruition," Pallone continued.

The FDA has come under fire recently from lawmakers and public health groups for dropping the ball in regulating the vaping industry, even as teen use soared.

The hearing marks the first time the FDA acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless has spoken to Congress since U.S. health officials identified a mysterious lung disease related to vaping that has sickened at least 530 people and killed at least nine.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin recently told Sharpless to take "decisive action" to curb teen vaping or resign.

Under former Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, the FDA pushed back the deadline to start reviewing e-cigarettes to 2022 from 2018. A U.S. district court sided with public health groups that sued the agency for shirking its duties, ordering the FDA in July to start its review next year.

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