Health and Science

US lawmaker urges White House to quickly finalize plan to pull flavored e-cigarettes off the market

Key Points
  • Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi sent a letter to the White House urging officials to quickly review and approve a proposal to remove flavored e-cigarettes from the market. 
  • The Trump administration first announced the plan in September. 
  • HHS submitted its proposal to the White House late Friday. The review process could take weeks.
US Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois, looks as Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire arrives to testify before a hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on September 26, 2019, in Washington, DC.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who is overseeing an investigation into e-cigarette market leader Juul, sent a letter to the White House on Wednesday urging officials to finalize a policy by next Friday that would remove flavored e-cigarettes from the market.

The Trump administration announced its plan to pull flavored nicotine pods off store shelves last month. They promised to release details within weeks. The Department of Health and Human Services filed its proposal to the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs late Friday — six weeks and two days after the idea was announced.

Some regulatory experts were stunned to see the proposal go to OIRA because it's incredibly rare for this type of policy and the review process could take weeks. In a letter to acting administrator of OIRA, Paul Ray, Krishnamoorthi urged the office to finalize its review of the policy within 10 days, or by next Friday.

"Each day flavors are on the market is another day for young people to pick up their first e-cigarettes and start a lifetime of nicotine addiction," Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., said in the letter.

Krishnamoorthi also urged the office to ensure the policy removes all non-tobacco flavors, including mint and menthol, from the market. He joins a growing chorus of lawmakers and public health advocates who are urging the Trump administration to keep its initial pledge.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar and acting FDA Commissioner Alex Azar in September pledged to remove mint and menthol from the market as part of its sweep of teen-appealing flavors. They cited data from an annual federal survey that showed mint and menthol was the second-most popular e-cigarette flavor behind fruit.

At the time, they said the policy would remove products from the market with the possibility they could return if the FDA approved companies' applications. Companies must submit all of their products to the FDA for review by May 2020.

It's unclear whether mint and menthol are included in the proposal HHS sent to OIRA. Spokespeople for HHS, FDA and OIRA declined to comment.

More than 50 health groups on Tuesday sent letters to Azar and First Lady Melania Trump urging the administration to stick with its original plan to include mint and menthol in its final rule as the Trump administration reportedly reconsiders banning those flavors. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., on Wednesday sent President Trump a letter requesting the administration ensure the final policy includes mint and menthol.

"A retreat from the announced policy would leave millions of children at risk, and I would hope that you would not allow that to happen," Pallone wrote. "Reports that the Administration is considering weakening the proposed policy because of political concerns and lobbying from the e-cigarette and tobacco industry are especially concerning given the grave threat that the e-cigarettes represent to the health of young people."

Pro-vaping advocates are pushing back, encouraging lawmakers and administration officials to consider adults who use e-cigarettes to stop smoking cigarettes. Advocates and users are sharing their displeasure with plans to pull flavors on social media using the hashtag #WeVapeWeVote.

As part of the White House review, stakeholders can request to meet with OIRA to share their perspectives on the issue. In this case, that means tobacco companies and public health groups can come in and make their case to the White House before the final guidance is issued.

E-cigarette manufacturer NJOY, trade group the Vapor Technology Association and anti-tobacco group the Truth Initiative have already scheduled meetings with OIRA for next week, according to the docket.

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