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Experts, officials warn of e-cigarette dangers at House hearing

By Daniel Uria
Experts, officials warn of e-cigarette dangers at House hearing
House lawmakers will hear from several witnesses at Wednesday's hearing, including the acting chief of the FDA. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 25 (UPI) -- Heightened concern about the safety of electronic cigarettes was the focus of a congressional hearing Wednesday, which included testimony from experts and the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The House committee on energy and commerce heard from the FDA chief and heads of six federal and state health agencies in a hearing titled, "Sounding the Alarm: The Public Health Threats of E-Cigarettes." The panel is examining the public health impacts and regulatory authorities related to e-cigarette manufacturing, marketing, sales and use.

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At the hearing, House investigations subcommittee Chair Rep. Diana DeGette noted that no vaping products now on the market have yet been studied by the FDA.

"None have been fully reviewed for impact on public health," she said. "FDA needs to do its job, examine these products, tell the public what the risks are and how and even if they can legally be sold."

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She also called on e-cigarette manufacturers to apply to the FDA to have their products approved.

"The burden is on the cigarette companies to show that these products meet the FDA's health standard," DeGette said.

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She also dismissed claims by e-cigarette companies that vaping is a good alternative for adults trying to quit traditional smoking.

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"Any benefit to adult smokers has to be weighed against the generation of young people, for which vaping represents an on-ramp to use."

Kentucky Rep. Brett Guthrie said at the hearing he's concerned about flavored e-cigarettes being marketed to youth -- and cited surveys that show 28 percent of young persons reported smoking an e-cigarette at some time this year. That figure is up from 21 percent a year ago and 11 percent in 2017.

"The marketing of e-cigarette products to children must be stopped and youth access to e-cigarette products must be blocked more efficiently," Guthrie said.

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The Kentucky Republican noted the possibility of rampant black market demand for e-cigarettes, if they are ultimately banned by the federal government. In some cases, he said, Chinese-made products said to contain cannabis oil are diluted with cheaper oils to increase profits. Any oil can cause lung inflammation if they aren't heated properly.

FDA Commissioner Norman E. Sharpless, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Deputy Director Anne Schuchat and the leaders of health organizations in Michigan, North Carolina, Kansas and Massachusetts were also set to testify Wednesday.

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The hearing comes after a particularly deadly summer that saw seven people in several states die after using e-cigarette products, and more than 500 people have become ill.

State health officials, the CDC and FDA began multi-state investigations into the illnesses in July. Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services outlined a plan to eliminate "unauthorized" flavored e-cigarette products from the market.

Multiple states have also taken action to regulate e-cigarettes, with Massachusetts announcing Tuesday a four-month ban on the sale of all vaping products in the state. San Francisco became the first major U.S. city in June to ban distribution and sale of all e-cigarette products, and New York and Michigan banned flavored e-cigarettes this month.

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