Will Congress vaporize proposals to curb tobacco use, protect kids’ health?

220px-Sanford_Bishop--113th_Congress-- RepCole_2Just days after federal health officials warned about teen-agers’ increasing use of e-cigarettes (vaping) and hookahs, members of a House committee have approved a legislative move that shields vaping manufacturers from imminent and stringent U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversight.

The appropriations committee, in a 31-19 vote, approved a proposal offered by Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Sanford Bishop (D.-Ga.), to alter the effective date for vaping manufacturers’ products to be required under proposed FDA rules to undergo a “pre-market tobacco application process.”

As part of the process, manufacturers for each and every tobacco product must document their ingredients and potential health harms, such as causing cancer and other heart and lung diseases. Opponents have denounced the proposal, arguing e-cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes and that the prospective federal regulation is too burdensome and will kill the industry. It is largely unregulated now.

The ferocious lobbying under way over vaping hasn’t always squared with health facts. As I’ve written, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just reported on teens’ use of harmful tobacco, finding it unchanged in recent years due to the rise of vaping and hookah use. The federal agency and others have said vaping’s increase, especially, bodes poorly for America’s health.

The industry, curiously, argues for its products’ safety, and insists that the nation should encourage vaping, partly to reduce Big Tobacco’s markets and sway. As I have written before, however, these arguments are odd, if for no other reason, that Big Tobacco is one of the big players behind vaping; while it is true that the e-cigarettes may reduce exposure to tars and other carcinogens associated with burning tobacco, vaping is a means to deliver highly addictive and damaging nicotine. Investigators are finding that vaping liquids contain risky, undisclosed chemicals and substances. It also is unclear whether vaping discourages smoking or provides an alternative to it, though studies are indicating that e-cigarettes, with their torrent of ads, may be a gateway for kids to become smokers.

Although the legislative processes must work their way further before there’s anything final about regulating e-cigarettes or not, it would be fascinating to hear Reps. Cole and Bishop talk to their key constituencies about their support for vaping. Cole, who is a cigar-smoking, anti-regulatory conservative and has become a darling of vaping industry,  also calls himself a leading advocate for Native Americans’ interests. Bishop, who represents a state that’s big in growing tobacco, has been a longtime member of the congressional Black Caucus. The CDC says that Native Americans suffer particular harm from tobacco use; the agency says this also is true for African Americans.

But never let proven medical science get in the way of advocacy, right?


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