The U.S. House Energy and Commerce committee is asking for information about the public-health aspects of electronic cigarettes, joining a long line of congressional and state legislative initiatives aimed at addressing the issue.
Committee chairman Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., sent oversight letters this week to the top-four e-cigarette manufacturers: Juul Labs Inc. (Juul), Reynolds American Inc. (Vuse), Fontem Ventures (blu eCigs) and Japan Tobacco International USA Inc. (Logic).
Juul is the maker of the controversial and top-selling U.S. electronic cigarette.
Pallone requested details on “each of the companies’ research into the public health impacts of their products, their marketing practices and their role in the promotion of e-cigarette use by adolescents.”
Pallone cited recent reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describing possible vaping-related lung illnesses, particularly among youths, as well as increasing underage smoking of e-cigarettes.
“I am concerned that ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery system) products, like Juul, are continuing to be disseminated, marketed and used while consumers lack adequate information to evaluate the health implications of using these products,” Pallone wrote.
“In fact, (CDC) and state health officials are currently investigating 94 possible cases of ‘pulmonary illnesses linked to e-cigarette use’ among young people reported in recent weeks across 14 states.”
There are three potential cases of vaping lung issues in North Carolina, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said last week as part of issuing a notice to curtail use of e-cigarette products.
Pallone noted his interest in reports that some of the manufacturers may be conducting clinical research into the “so-called positive health effects” of e-cigarettes.
Pallone wants documents to be submitted, as well as answers to a series of questions, by Sept. 20.
Those questions include: reports on any adverse experiences by users of the companies’ products; whether the manufacturers are marketing the products as smoking-cessation products; sales information for all the companies’ products since January 2016, details on promotional and marketing research; and a list of all social media influencers the companies have paid to market their products and any handles and usernames for social media bots that the companies use to market their products.
Reynolds said in a statement that “we are reviewing Chairman Pallone’s letter and share a common interest with the House Energy and Commerce Committee in addressing youth use of vapor products.”
“Reynolds American and its subsidiaries believe that minors should never use tobacco products, including vapor products,” the statement said. “Youth tobacco (including vapor) use is illegal and it hurts our businesses.”
Pallone introduced during the 2019 session of Congress a bill titled “Reversing the youth tobacco epidemic Act of 2019” that has among its goals to “prohibit all characterizing flavors of tobacco products and make it unlawful to market, advertise or promote any e-cigarette products to individuals under the age of 21.”
Stefanie Miller, an analyst with Sandhills Strategy, said “we continue to think it is unlikely that a Tobacco 21-only bill could pass Congress without Democrats working to include other provisions as well, such as banning nicotine altogether, banning menthol-flavored cigarettes, banning all flavors of e-cigarettes except for tobacco-flavored products, and banning all so-called ‘pod-like’ e-cigarette systems.”
Pallone’s request comes about five weeks after a federal judge ruled that tobacco manufacturers have until May 11 to file pre-market applications for e-cigarettes and cigars.
The premarket standard requires the FDA to consider products’ risks and benefits to the population as a whole, including users and non-users.
Products can remain in the marketplace for up to a year from the application submission date without being subject to FDA enforcement actions. The FDA can take enforcement actions against products that are not submitted for review.
In May, N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein filed a lawsuit against Juul over accusations that it targets underage youths with its products.
Stein wants a judge to require Juul to: cease selling e-cigs to N.C. minors; limit the flavors sold in the state; stop advertising and marketing practices that are intended to or likely to appeal to minors; and delete all data for customers who Juul cannot confirm are at least 18.
Stein’s lawsuit is similar in approach to the avalanche of county- and state-level lawsuits filed against opioid manufacturers to thwart product usage.
Stein is requesting civil penalties and disgorgement of Juul profits from “its unfair and deceptive practices to the state.”
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who stepped down in April as FDA commissioner, and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams have made similar claims about Juul and underage vaping.
Meanwhile, North Carolina’s Republican U.S. senators have been pushing back against the Trump administration’s plan to tighten regulations on tobacco products, particularly banning traditional menthol cigarettes.
Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis issued statements in November questioning the FDA’s tobacco-products strategy, especially considering that a Democratic-controlled Congress created a legal exemption for menthol cigarettes in 2009.
Menthol styles, which are mint-flavored, have been controversial for decades because they are considered a smoother way to smoke traditional cigarettes, and because manufacturers have been accused of specifically marketing them to minority consumers.