clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Mitt Romney calls on FDA to consider recalling e-cigarettes

The Republican senator’s tweet comes after Utah probes 35 cases of severe lung disease and federal regulators issue warning to company marketing device to youth

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, leaves after speaking at the Sutherland Institute in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, leaves after speaking at the Sutherland Institute in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019.
Scott G Winterton

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mitt Romney suggested the Food and Drug Administration recall e-cigarettes in the wake of an increasing number of illnesses and deaths linked to the devices.

In a tweet Tuesday, the Utah Republican said the FDA should consider recalling e-cigarettes while it investigates the recent deaths and illnesses related to vaping.

“I’m increasingly concerned that a generation of young people has been deceived into thinking e-cigarettes are safe,” he wrote.

In June, Romney introduced a bill to keep electronic cigarettes and other vaping systems away from educational and child care facilities across the country, saying youth use has reached epidemic levels.

Shortly after Romney’s tweet, health official in Kansas confirmed the sixth death from lung disease related to vaping or e-cigarette use.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said in a news release the recent death involved a Kansas resident older than 50 who had a history of underlying health issues. The unidentified patient was hospitalized with symptoms that progressed rapidly, the Associated Press reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there have been 450 possible cases of lung disease related to vaping reported in 33 states.

On Monday, the Utah Department of Health announced 35 cases in Utah of severe lung disease in people who vape nicotine or THC products have been reported, and 12 additional cases are being investigated.

“Patients are experiencing symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, chest pain and fatigue,” the state reported. “Other symptoms included nausea and vomiting. Most patients (94%) have required hospitalization, with some requiring the assistance of ventilators to help them breathe.”

In a response to a request for comment on Romney’s suggestion, an FDA spokeswoman said “getting to the bottom of the respiratory illnesses associated with vaping use is a top priority for the agency and all of our federal and state partners.”

“We’re aggressively enforcing the law, developing regulations and guidances, and in particular are investing in campaigns to educate youth about the dangers of e-cigarette use,” said spokeswoman Stephanie Coccomo.

The agency issued a warning letter Monday to JUUL Labs Inc. for marketing unauthorized modified risk tobacco products, including a presentation given to youth at a school. The agency also sent a letter to the company requesting information about the e-cigarette maker’s outreach and marketing practices, “including those targeted at students, tribes, health insurers and employers.”

The warning letter states that the agency has determined that JUUL Labs has marketed its products as modified risk tobacco products without an appropriate FDA order.

“We remain committed to using all available tools to ensure that e-cigarettes and other tobacco products aren’t being marketed or sold to kids,” said acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Ned Sharpless. “We’ve also 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.”

Romney’s proposed bill, co-sponsored by New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall, amends the Pro-Children Act of 2001, which imposes restrictions on smoking in facilities where federally funded children’s services are provided, to include e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems.

Four of the reported deaths related to vaping were identified as adults middle aged and older. And investigators have focused their investigation on contaminants, rather than standard vaping products that have been used for years, according to the Washington Post.

“One potential lead is the oil derived from vitamin E, known as vitamin E acetate. Investigators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found the oil in cannabis products in samples collected from patients who fell ill across the United States,” the Post reported. “That same chemical was also found in nearly all cannabis samples from patients who fell ill in New York in recent weeks,” a state health department spokeswoman said.

Former FDA Director Scott Gottlieb said over the weekend that the state and federal conflict over the legalization of marijuana is contributing to the problem, creating an oversight gap in states where THC is legal, the online publication Marijuana Moment reported.

“We have a dangerous State-Federal conflict when it comes to THC,” he tweeted Sunday. “States legalize THC behind permissive laws but have little capacity or interest in properly regulating it, and for Feds, it’s still schedule 1. Then states point fingers when problems arise.”

The online publication that tracks the legalization of cannabis across the country reported that on CNBC’s Squawk Box. Gottlieb said the challenge is getting state or federal government to regulate THC, that active ingredient in marijuana that produces a high, and cannabidiol, or CBD, a chemical compound in marijuana that some studies have found can treat pain and other ailments.

“The states allow these things to be legally sold within states, but they’re not regulated by FDA,” he said about THC and CBD. “FDA would only regulate a vaping product if it’s a nicotine-containing vaping product that’s derived from tobacco. That’s their legal hook. These are falling within a regulatory gap so states aren’t doing regulations.”