Senators address vaping epidemic

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File – In this Aug. 28, 2019, file photo, a man exhales while smoking an e-cigarette. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WCIA) — U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) Thursday met with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Acting Commissioner Dr. Ned Sharpless to discuss FDA’s announcement yesterday it would imminently ban all non-tobacco e-cigarette flavors, including mint and menthol.  During the meeting, Durbin pressed Sharpless to ensure that e-cigarette flavors are removed from the market without delay, and to use his authority as Acting FDA Commissioner to immediately remove illegal vaping devices from the market.  The meeting comes as more than 450 cases of severe respiratory illness among people using e-cigarettes in 33 states, as well as six deaths, in Illinois, Oregon, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, and California have been reported.  

“In my meeting today with Acting Commissioner Sharpless, I wanted to get one clear message across: Vaping targets kids.  Today, five million children are vaping—more than one in four high-schoolers—and it’s because of JUUL and flavors like mint, unicorn milk, and gummy bear.  Yesterday’s e-cigarette flavor ban announcement out of FDA was welcome news, but they should have acted years ago to get these flavors and illegal devices off the market,” Durbin said.

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) also attended today’s meeting.

Photos from today’s meeting are available here.

To date, Illinois has 42 confirmed cases of vaping-related lung illness, and one death, across 17 different counties, with 26 more cases being investigated as probable.  The median age of vaping-related illness in Illinois is 22 years old.  And 76 percent of the Illinois patients needed to be placed in an intensive care unit (ICU), and 41 percent of the patients were mechanically ventilated.

According to the most recent public health data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), America has seen a 32 percent increase in the number of high-school children using e-cigarettes – with five million teens currently using e-cigarettes. This alarming increase comes on top of a 78 percent increase in the number of high-school children using e-cigarettes in 2018, and a 48 percent increase in the number of middle-school children using these addictive and dangerous products. 

In March, Durbin and Murkowski, along with U.S. Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO-01) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD-08), reintroduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to crack down on kid-friendly flavorings in highly-addictive e-cigarettes and cigars.  The Stopping Appealing Flavors in E-Cigarettes for Kids (SAFE Kids) Act will place strong restrictions on e-cigarette flavorings and ban cigar flavorings altogether.

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