Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Il.) threatened to call on the Food and Drug Administration’s acting commissioner to resign if he didn’t take immediate action on the recent surge of vaping-related deaths and severe illnesses, which have now impacted hundreds of people across the country.
In an angry letter to the federal official Friday, Durbin accused acting Commissioner Dr. Ned Sharpless of refusing to do his job to protect the public from the risks linked to e-cigarettes and vaping. The senator gave Sharpless 10 days before he calls for resignation.
Durbin said that this “public health crisis” could have been avoided altogether if the FDA had done more to regulate these products, adding that the agency had 10 years to do so. The senator also said he and several health groups have been warning the agency of vaping’s health risks and marketing tactics, which are “enticing and hooking young people” on the products.
“As Acting Commissioner of the FDA, you alone have the power to stop this vaping epidemic, which now has reached the point where children and young adults are getting sick and dying,” Durbin said.
On the day Durbin sent his letter, the number of cases of severe breathing illnesses linked to the new-age nicotine products spiked to 450 across 33 states. As many as three deaths have also been reported, with a fourth fatality currently under investigation.
This week, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued several warnings urging people to stop vaping while they investigate what’s causing these problems. So far, they have not identified a single common product or ingredient that is causing problems across all cases.
In response to Durbin’s letter, an FDA spokesperson told HuffPost that the agency has been keeping members of Congress informed of the ongoing investigation and has sent a warning to the vape industry.
“We look forward to engaging with Senator Durbin, along with all members of Congress, on this ongoing and very serious situation,” FDA press officer Stephanie Caccomo said in a statement.
“We’ve 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,” Caccomo added.
She did not provide further details on what that specific action might be.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also urged the FDA to take action on Friday, specifically calling on banning flavors added to the devices and “slick marketing tactics” employed by vape companies.
Earlier Friday, the commissioner said the agency was “working tirelessly” with other federal and state agencies to understand these cases and find a solution.
Sharpless, along with CDC Director Robert R. Redfield and Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II, wrote an op-ed in USA Today Thursday vowing to make the vaping illnesses a top priority.
In that op-ed, the federal officials again warned people against buying off-market vaping products or modifying their vape products in any way.