Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) charged in an unusually sharp attack Wednesday that acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless seemed to have “no intention” of addressing youth e-cigarette use, which his predecessor deemed a public health epidemic.
His May 14 meeting with Sharpless was “one of the most alarming and disappointing meetings in my time in public service,” the No. 2 Senate Democrat wrote in a letter to Sharpless, a longtime cancer researcher who took the top FDA post in April as Scott Gottlieb left.
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During the meeting, Durbin said, he pushed for FDA to move up the deadline to review e-cigarette products including kid-friendly vapors, but left the meeting believing Sharpless “has no intention” of attacking the problem.
The FDA in 2017 extended the review deadline to August 2022, then this March moved it up to 2021. A federal judge in Maryland this month said the 2017 decision had given a “holiday” to manufacturers.
Durbin and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.) previously introduced legislation to restrict kid-friendly vapor flavors and ban flavored cigars entirely. The FDA under Gottlieb also made moves to ban new flavored cigars from the market and threatened to restrict flavored vapor sales if teen use was not curbed. But so far, the agency has mainly targeted where vapors can be sold, for example mailing out more than a thousand warning letters last year.
In a news release, the FDA said Sharpless was committed to tackling the epidemic of e-cigarette use by preventing youth access to flavored tobacco products and taking action against illegal marketing to minors. It said Sharpless would respond directly to Durbin about his letter.
Durbin also called on the FDA to stop popular e-cigarette brand Juul from claiming that it helps traditional smokers quit with its “make the switch” ad campaign. The company has no evidence for such a claim, the senator said.
He concluded by warning Sharpless not to repeat the error Gottlieb made in allowing teen vaping to go unchecked for too long.