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E-cigarette supporters push lawmakers to limit FDA regulatory role

Buoyed by a victory in the House Appropriations Committee last month, supporters of the e-cigarette industry view the coming weeks as crucial for manufacturers of vaping products to avoid having to comply with federal regulations they consider extremely costly and complex.

“The indication I’ve gotten is that between May 16 and the Republican National Convention (in mid-July), there is a possibility that the House could pass individually the different Appropriations bills,” Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, told AMI Newswire.

One of those bills would be the 2017 agriculture Appropriations bill that contains a pro-vaping industry amendment approved by the House Appropriations Committee on April 19. That provision would effectively stop the Food and Drug Administration from putting vapor products through its premarket tobacco product application process – whose costs would put many small companies that make e-cigarettes out of business, industry supporters say.

The Hill, a news publication that covers the federal government, has reported that the FDA is finalizing the rules it plans to use in the review process for smokeless e-cigarette products. Several observers had expected that the rules would be published as early as April.

Meanwhile, local jurisdictions have been passing restrictions on vaping, often equating the use of the vapor products with more dangerous cigarette smoke. The Spokane Regional Health District in Washington, for example, last week limited the use of the products in public places such as restaurants and movie theaters, noting that the vapor from e-cigarettes contains addictive nicotine and potentially dangerous chemicals.

“It has been growing, and it has been difficult to stop,” Conley said of prohibitions enacted by local governments.

At the heart of the issue in the debate over the House Appropriations Committee amendment in April was whether the upside of smokeless cigarette products – helping to get those addicted to traditional tobacco to kick the habit – should overshadow opponents’ concerns that e-cigarettes are a gateway product that entices young people to get hooked on the effects of nicotine through vaping.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida), who chairs the National Democratic Committee, was on the losing end of the 31-19 vote on the House agriculture bill’s amendment. But she argued before the committee that they lacked hard data showing that people have eliminated their addiction to tobacco smoking from vaping products and that the vapor could cause drowsiness in humans and adverse effects in aquatic environments.

Other lawmakers ridiculed the industry for putting out products with flavors such as Froot Loops and Skittles that seem designed to appeal to young people. They also cited a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April that indicated a correlation between advertising for e-cigarettes and the products’ use by students in middle and high schools.

The CDC study was based on self-administered questionnaires filled out by 22,000 youths in 2014. It found that among high school students, e-cigarette use shot up from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 13.4 percent in 2014

“If we don’t think that this product is designed to hook kids on nicotine,” Schultz told lawmakers, “then we are sticking our heads in the sand.”

Supporters countered that the amendment contained many provisions that addressed opponents’ concerns, such as restrictions on e-cigarette advertising in magazines and on television, as well as battery standards, labeling requirements and bans on vending machines in establishments that permit minors.

A report released last week by the Royal College of Physicians in London concluded vapor products posed at most 5 percent of the health dangers linked to regular cigarettes. Furthermore, the report from the United Kingdom supported promotion of vapor products to help smokers find a less-risky alternative to lighting up.

Conley said that the future of the vaping industry rests with Congress, which might end up putting together a last-minute budget deal after the November presidential election if the Appropriations process gets bogged down in the months ahead.