December 03, 2019

Merkley, Wyden Join Senate Democrats to Slam Trump Administration’s Walk Back from Strong Tobacco Regulation

After meeting with industry, Trump administration backed away from recent promise to ban all non-tobacco flavored e-cigarettes that had not undergone FDA review

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announced that they are joining Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and 20 of their Democratic Senate colleagues to call out the Trump administration’s recent course reversal on a critical pledge to clear the market of unauthorized, non-tobacco flavored e-cigarettes.

The Trump administration’s abandonment of its proposed action to curb a growing youth vaping epidemic—which has claimed multiple lives and sickened hundreds of people—is just the latest in a pattern of administration action that puts the profits of tobacco companies ahead of the country’s public health.

“We write to express our outrage at your decision to ignore public health when it comes to addressing the dangers of tobacco and to understand whether your Administration has assessed the risks of your inaction. The nation is in the midst of a public health crisis, with millions of children facing potential addiction to tobacco products and people across the country at risk of deadly illness. Yet, according to press reports, you plan to take no meaningful action to address the youth vaping epidemic and vaping-related injuries. Further, your Administration has reportedly backed away from plans to implement a policy to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes,” the Senators wrote.

The latest backward steps represent part of a larger pattern from the Trump administration of walking back, watering down, and abandoning proposals to address the epidemic of rising youth tobacco use. In 2017, the Trump administration punted critical regulation deadlines of e-cigarettes, allowing products to remain on the market with no review. New data show that between 2017 and 2019, e-cigarette use among high school students has more than doubled, and e-cigarette use among middle school students has more than tripled.

The Senators continued, “Your Administration’s continued delay in protecting youth from tobacco, including by failing to deliver the policies you promised, is an irresponsible abdication of the government’s obligation to protect the public health.  It is unconscionable that the President of the United States is willing to allow special interests to stand in the way of protecting the millions of children using tobacco products that, in your own words, are ‘very dangerous.’”

Senator Merkley—the top Democrat on the FDA/Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee—Senator Wyden, and other Senate Democrats previously sent a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to urge the agency to finalize a promised compliance policy, and to clear unauthorized flavored e-cigarette products from the market.

In addition to Senators Merkley and Wyden, the most recent letter was also signed by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH),  Tom Udall (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

The full letter is available here.