Hearing Also Takes Closer Look at Recent Illnesses Related to E-Cigarette Products
Washington D.C.— U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joined her colleagues on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee today for a hearing to examine the federal response to lung illnesses and rising electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use among youth. During the hearing, witnesses spoke about the public health response to the outbreak of lung injuries linked to the use of e-cigarettes, or vaping products, and federal actions to prevent youth from using electronic tobacco products. The hearing also focused on findings and recommendations from the ongoing investigation being conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) into the severe pulmonary diseases associated with using e-cigarette products.
“I continue to build on my years-long effort to protect youth from becoming addicted to nicotine products. We had made headway in recent years and saw the trend going down with young people smoking cigarettes. That changed when e-cigarettes were introduced to the market. Since 2013, we have seen dramatic increases in e-cigarette use. Data from 2019 indicates that 27.5 percent of high school students have used e-cigs. I have worked with my colleagues and the administration to take off the market flavored products—such as tutti frutti, bubble gum, and gummy bear—that are designed for no other purpose than to attract kids,” said Senator Murkowski. “The access kids have to these products is real. And now with the recent illnesses and deaths associated with e-cigs and vaping, it’s clear that much more needs to be done to educate young people of the dangers. The stark reality is they are not only buying these products but figuring out how to alter them, adding even more harmful substances. I appreciate the HELP Committee for prioritizing how we can protect the health and safety of our youth and families.”
During the hearing, Senator Murkowski emphasized the inadequate labeling on e-cigarette and vaping products, and raised the need to clearly and directly educate youth on their potential health implications.
“The frustration here is you have kids who have seen advertised very clearly that these products are a cessation product. So if it can be used to get someone off nicotine, then surely it can’t be that bad, even if there is nicotine in it. When we’re talking about consistent messages to kids, I think you have to be up front and direct. This harms you. This addicts you. This could ultimately kill you. I don’t think we need to nuance the message here,” said Senator Murkowski.
Senator Murkowski also highlighted statistics included in the witnesses’ testimonies surrounding the recent outbreak of pulmonary disease associated with the use of e-cigarette products, citing that 80 percent of samples tested from sick patients have shown a presence of THC. Murkowski asked witnesses to respond to her concern, that if the findings of the investigation do not solely implicate nicotine – those findings could ultimately distract from the public health epidemic of nicotine and e-cigarettes. Panelists confirmed there are two clear epidemics taking place: the skyrocketing use of e-cigarette use among children and the outbreak of lung injury that is pointing to THC and other additives being used in e-cigarette and vaping products. As of November 5, 2019, 2,051 cases of the illness have been reported from all states except Alaska, and thirty-nine deaths have been confirmed.
The funding package for Fiscal Year 2020 bill containing the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food & Drug Administration Appropriations bill includes language secured by Senator Murkowski directing the FDA to work with the CDC and other agencies to investigate the recent outbreak in pulmonary illnesses. The bill also requires the FDA to collect information to help determine the next steps to respond to the uptick in these illnesses.
- In October of 2018, Senator Murkowski, alongside Senator Durbin, urged the FDA to immediately ban kid-friendly e-cigarette flavorings and restrict online sales of the addictive nicotine products.
- In March 2019, Senator Murkowski and Senator Durbin introduced the SAFE Kids Act, legislation that would place strong restrictions on e-cigarette flavorings. The bill places strict limitations on the use of flavors in tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes and cigars, in an effort to reverse the marketing tactics that make tobacco products more appealing for kids.
- In September 2019, Senator Murkowski sent a letter to the FDA, with Senators Durbin, Merkley, and Blumenthal, urging the agency to immediately remove all pod- and cartridge based e-cigarettes from the market until they can be proven to be safe.
- In September 2019, Senator Murkowski cosponsored the Preventing Online Sales of E-Cigarettes to Children Act, sponsored by Senators Cornyn and Feinstein. The bill would make it clear that online sales of e-cigarettes must abide by all age verification requirements that store sales adhere to.
- On September 2019, Murkowski introduced the E-Cigarette Device Standards Act of 2019, with Senators Merkley, Durbin, Blumenthal, and Shaheen to improve the safety standards in the design of e-cigarette and vaping devices, to prevent tampering with devices.