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OPINIONTobacco

House Lawmakers Weigh Vaping, Menthol Rules

Subcommittee bill could lead to major changes in Tobacco Control Act
Photograph: Shutterstock

LAKEVILLE, Minn. On Oct. 16, the Subcommittee on Health within the House Committee on Energy and Commerce will take testimony and consider legislation introduced by Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) and Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Florida). Pallone introduced HR 2339, the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019, last April, and the bill was subsequently referred to his committee.

During recent weeks, several U.S. governors have announced emergency executive action to restrict or ban the sale of flavored nicotine vapor products. In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker took things one step further and temporarily banned the sale of all nicotine vapor products. And this week’s hearing follows a two-day hearing last month before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. The actions come in response to two prevailing media stories dominating national coverage, including concerns about increased youth usage of nicotine vapor products as reflected in the National Youth Tobacco Survey of 2018 and an outbreak of lung injuries, even deaths, that increasingly appear to be related not to legal nicotine vaping products but rather to the vaping of illicit THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or related products.

The FDA authority to regulate tobacco products results from the delegation of regulatory authority provided when President Barack Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in 2009. If enacted into law, Pallone’s bill would represent the first major changes to the Tobacco Control Act in a decade. Among other things, the bill would instruct the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to implement graphic health warnings on combustible cigarettes, limit advertising of nicotine vapor products, increase the federal legal age of purchase for all products to 21, ban online sales and increase the percentage of tobacco fees applicable for regulation of products that currently fall within the purview of the act.

Pallone’s legislation would also ban flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and smokeless tobacco flavors that have been in existence for more than a century. The bill does create exceptions for some flavored nicotine vapor products. In order to be approved for sale, manufacturers of flavored nicotine vapor products would be required to prove the flavor will increase likelihood of tobacco cessation, will not increase the likelihood of persons (including youth) to initiate use, and will not increase the likelihood of harm to any user. The bill also instructs the FDA to promulgate rules to deal with the potential use of synthetic nicotine or nicotine that is not derived from the tobacco plant.

Pallone’s bill also expands advertising restrictions applicable currently to tobacco products to apply to nicotine vapor products, subject to enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission or state attorneys general. Under Pallone’s bill, it would be illegal to “market, advertise or promote any electronic nicotine-delivery systems in a manner that appeals to an individual under 21 years of age” and eliminate product advertising not clearly labeled as such.

The subcommittee is scheduled to hear from five different speakers, including Dorian Fuhrman, co-founder of Parents Against Vaping E-Cigarettes; Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids; Phillip Gardiner, a professor at the University of California at Irvine; Michael Siegel, a professor from the Boston University School of Public Health; and Susanne Tanski, an associate professor of pediatrics from the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, N.H.

Thomas Briant is the executive director of NATO, a tobacco retailing association based in Lakeville, Minn. Reach him at info@natocentral.org.

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