CHICAGO - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration needs to better regulate the electronic cigarette industry in the wake of several vaping-related deaths, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois urged Monday.
Durbin criticized the FDA for its lack of oversight of the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes and nicotine vaping products to minors during a news conference at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.
"Why are these highly addictive, dangerous products allowed to remain on the market? Because the Food and Drug Administration remains, basically, undirected and misdirected when it comes to dealing with this threat," the Illinois Democrat said.
Durbin said he sent a letter last week to acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless demanding "immediate, decisive action" in relation to the enforcement of existing regulations on the sale of vaping products.
"FDA must immediately ban all e-cigarette flavors and devices that have not been approved for sale by the agency," he said. "Young, healthy people in Illinois and across the nation are getting sick and dying. The acting Food and Drug Administration commissioner has the power to do something. It's time that he either does something or resigns."
An Illinois man died last month after contracting a lung disease related to the use of a vaping device. Illinois has seen 42 confirmed cases of "vaping-related" lung illnesses, Durbin noted.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported hundreds of primarily young people sickened by a mysterious vaping-related respiratory illness around the country. At least five of them have died.
On Monday, the FDA blasted vaping products company Juul for illegally pitching its e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking. The FDA has been investigating Juul for months, and a company spokesman has said Juul "will full cooperate" with the agency.
FDA spokesman Michael Felberbaum released a statement saying the agency remains dedicated to "getting to the bottom of" products behind the vaping illnesses, and will continue working to ensure the devices aren't sold to minors. The FDA statement also highlighted the agency's investment in a marketing campaign aimed at discouraging young people from vaping, and its commitment to enforcing e-cigarette rules.
"We've put the industry on notice: If the disturbing rise in youth e-cigarette use continues, especially through the use of flavors that appeal to kids, we'll take even more aggressive action. We will do what's necessary to end the youth e-cigarette epidemic," the statement said.