Lamar Alexander

Lamar Alexander

I often suggest that Americans look at Washington, D.C., as if it were a split screen television.

On one side, you had the House of Representatives beginning public impeachment hearings into the president.

But on the other side, you had the Senate health committee I chair holding a bipartisan hearing investigating a mysterious illness tied to e-cigarette use, which has harmed over 2,000 Americans with 39 who have died. More alarming, this is happening at a time when as many as 1 in 10 Tennessee high school students are using e-cigarettes, most of them illegally.

If you walk into a convenience store to buy aspirin, you assume the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that it is safe and effective.

Likewise, you’d assume the FDA said it was ok to sell e-cigarettes. But you would be wrong – the FDA has not used its authority to say whether they are OK to be sold.

Not a single e-cigarette or vaping product has been reviewed and cleared for sale by the FDA.

According to data from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over the last two years, 13.5 million Americans, including over five million teenagers, have used e-cigarettes, with about 1.6 million teenagers using e-cigarettes frequently.

I know the Trump Administration has been concerned about the number of teenagers using e-cigarettes and is working on a proposal to address flavored e-cigarettes. What we discovered at our hearing is that the FDA has the authority to do more about e-cigarettes, especially for young people, than it is using.

For example, the FDA could reduce the amount of nicotine in e-cigarettes, it could require tamper-proof cartridges, or labeling to inform users of the products’ negative side effects, and it could spend more money than it is currently spending on more effective ways to inform young people of the dangers of e-cigarettes.

A step Congress could take would be to pass a provision in our Lower Health Care Costs Act which raises the minimum age for purchasing any tobacco product — including e-cigarettes — from 18 to 21.

This is an unacceptable situation, especially among young Americans, and we need to pay attention to it. And the FDA should do more to stop it.

Sen. Lamar Alexander is the senior U.S. senator from Tennessee.

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